July 7 (UPI) -- UNESCO declared the Old Town of Hebron, West Bank, a world heritage site on Friday, referring to it as part of the State of Palestine.
The agency's World Heritage Committee, meeting in Krakow, Poland, recognized the ancient city as meeting its criteria for historic and cultural significance. In a secret ballot, representatives of 12 countries approved the nomination, three rejected it and six abstained. The property includes a holy site, known to Jews as the Tomb of the Patriarchs and to Muslims as the Ibrahimi mosque.
It is the first time the World Heritage Committee identified a selected property as Palestinian. UNESCO's decision to identify the area, and the Tomb of the Patriarchs, as a Palestinian heritage site, outraged the Israeli government.
"The Jewish connection to Hebron goes back thousands of years. Hebron, the birthplace of King David's kingdom, and the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the first Jewish purchase in Israel and resting place of our forefathers, are our people's oldest heritage sites. UNESCO's resolution must be rejected, and our efforts to strengthen the city of our fathers increased," said Naftali Bennett, Israeli education minister.
Other Israeli leaders called the committee's decision an attempt to promote lies to benefit Palestine.
"UNESCO's decision to recognize the Cave of Patriarchs as a Palestinian heritage site is a despicable falsification of history. Does UNESCO not believe that the Bible is heritage? It's a decision that at best stems from utter ignorance and at worst from hypocrisy and antisemitism," Yair Lapid of Israel's Yesh Atid party.
A motion by Israeli representatives to block the secret vote failed, despite the personal intervention of Nikki Haley, the U.S. representative to the United Nations.
Palestinians celebrated the committee's decision. Rula Maayah, Palestinian minister of tourism, called it a "historical development because it stressed that Hebron" and its mosque "historically belong to the Palestinian people."