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UNESCO draws ire for passing controversial resolution for Jerusalem holy site

Israel and supporters criticized the resolution for referring to the site by its Arab name.

By Doug G. Ware
UNESCO draws ire for passing controversial resolution for Jerusalem holy site
A man stands between Israeli and American flags overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem on Wednesday. The United Nations' cultural body, UNESCO, adopted a resolution on Wednesday to keep a holy site revered by Muslims and Jews on its "endangered" list of heritage sites. The resolution drew criticism from Israel and allies for referring to the site exclusively by its Arab name. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo

NEW YORK, Oct. 26 (UPI) -- The governments of Israel and the United States on Wednesday criticized a resolution adopted by the United Nations' world heritage organization that denies Jewish ties to the Haram al-Sharif-Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem's Old City.

UNESCO passed the final version of the resolution on Wednesday, which has sparked outcry concerning the heritage site -- which has religious significance to both the Jewish and Muslim faiths.

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The measure agreed to keep the walled area on the list of endangered world heritage sites. It also criticized Israel for refusing it access to evaluate the site's conservation status.

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The primary concern about the resolution is that it refers to the site exclusively by its Arab name, Haram al-Sharif. Some of the language was changed but that did little to ease opposition from Israel, which views the Temple Mount as a primarily Jewish site in the faith's most sacred city. Meanwhile, it's the third-most sacred site in the Muslim faith.

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Critics argue that the cultural body's emphasis on the Arab name diminishes its Jewish significance.

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"You have just adopted a [resolution] against historical truth and one that stands in complete and utter contradiction to all values," UNESCO's Israeli ambassador, Carmel Shama-Hacohen, said.

Members of the U.S. government also expressed disappointment, as did Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who said it was "wrong" for UNESCO to pass "a resolution on Jerusalem that fails to recognize and respect the deep and historic ties of the Jewish people to Jerusalem and its holy sites."

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Palestinian authority members, meanwhile, lauded UNESCO's resolution.

"Israel is our enemy and Hamas is our political adversary," Fatah official Tawfik Tirawi said. "Jerusalem is our capital."

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UNESCO's director-general, Irina Bokova, responded Wednesday by acknowledging the site's significance to three faiths -- Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

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"The heritage of Jerusalem is indivisible, and each of its communities has a right to the explicit recognition of their history and relationship with the city," she said in a statement. "To deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site, and runs counter to the reasons that justified its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list."

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"When these divisions carry over into UNESCO, an Organization dedicated to dialogue and peace, they prevent us from carrying out our mission," she continued. "UNESCO's responsibility is to foster this spirit of tolerance and respect for history, and this is my absolute daily determination as Director-General, with all Member States."

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