Unesco: Bethlehem heritage site, Palestinians celebrate

First site in occupied territories; US: 'deeply disappointed'

29 June, 20:38

An exterior view of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem An exterior view of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

(ANSAmed) - JERUSALEM - Following a secret ballot with 13 votes cast in favour, 6 against and 2 abstentions the twenty-one member Unesco heritage committee has accepted the urgent proposal by the Palestinian National Authority that the Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrim Way in Bethlehem should be listed as World Heritage sites. This is a first time ever for a monument situated on the West Bank and the decision opens fresh political controversy following Palestine's entry into the UN organisation for science, education and culture in October of last year. The accession itself triggered strong opposition from both the USA and Israel. The Bethlehem proposal was presented by the Palestinians to the Unesco committee, which is currently meeting in St Petersburg - grounding an urgent process with the site's state of " dilapidation and degradation". One of the reasons given for this was the impositions of the Israeli "occupation forces". Although it has no objection to the listing of the site, Israel objected to the proposal as an urgent measure, with its overtones that they had not afforded the church sufficient protection. Today's decision has been greeted by the Palestinians, who expressed their pride, while the USA said it was "deeply disappointed".

Speaking in the name of the PLO, Hanan Ashrawi said "the Palestinian people welcome this decision with joy as a moment of national pride and a confirmation of their identity and of their heritage". Speaking in Paris, US Unesco Ambassador David Killion noted that this site "is sacred to all Christians and it should not be politicised". Ambassador Killion went on to note that the urgent procedure adopted in this case should be reserved for sites threatened with destruction. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad - cited on the Ynet website - noted that Unesco's decision underlines Palestinian determination to create an independent state within its 1967 borders. No reaction has come today from the Israeli government, as it is observing the pre-Sabbath repose. Today's listing includes the Church of the Nativity, which dates back to Roman Emperor Constantine in the 4th century and which was renovated in the 6th century under Justinian, as well as three nearby monasteries and the Pilgrim's Way. Around two million tourists visited Bethlehem in 2011.(ANSAmed).

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