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Report: Israel slams UNESCO decisions as biased

Oct. 29, 2010 12:14 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 30, 2010 10:34 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- A week after UNESCO passed five resolutions on their work and mandate in Palestine, Israeli officials condemned the decisions as anti-Israeli.

In an interview Friday on Radio Israel, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman said UNESCO had accused Israel of conducting excavations beneath Rachel's Tomb, cordoned off from Bethlehem and its surrounding Muslim cemetery by the separation wall in 2004.

According to the official, UNESCO had termed Rachel's Tomb a mosque, and demanded that it be removed from the Israeli list of historical sites. The tomb, and the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, were both added to the Israeli historical registry in early 2010, outraging Palestinians who feel the sites - also central to the cultural and religious life of Palestinians - were under threat.

The official was outraged that the UNESCO statement referred to the tomb as Bilal Bin Rabah Mosque in Arabic, while the English, French, Spanish and Russian versions referred to the edifice as Rachel's Tomb.

The resolution did not ask that the tomb and the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron be removed from the Israeli historical registry, but rather reaffirmed that "the two sites are an integral part of the occupied Palestinian Territories and that any unilateral action by the Israeli authorities is to be considered a violation of international law, the UNESCO Conventions and the United Nations and Security Council resolutions."

Palestinians are no longer able to freely access Rachel's Tomb, following settler lobbying which put it on the far side of the separation wall. Sections of the Ibrahimi Mosque are also off limits for Palestinians, and have been designated for Jewish use.

The Israeli spokesman said the UNESCO decisions - which also asked that Israel allow Palestinian Waqf officials to oversee excavations at the Mughrabi Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem, reaffirmed the city as part of Palestinian and Muslim heritage, expressed "continuing concern" over the impact of the separation wall on the availability of education for Palestinians and called for more rapid reconstruction in Gaza - were "shameful and reeked of political bias."
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