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Threatened village proposed as next UNESCO world heritage site

Dec. 7, 2012 4:55 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 25, 2012 2:11 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The ancient village of Battir, near Bethlehem, will be one of two sites submitted to UNESCO for World Heritage status by Palestine next year, an official said Friday.

UNESCO granted Palestine full membership last year, and inscribed the first Palestinian World Heritage, Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, this June.

Palestine can submit two applications for heritage site recognition per year, said Omar Awadullah, a foreign ministry official with the UN portfolio.

By the end of January 2013, Battir will be proposed to the UN cultural agency, he said, noting that the second site will be selected from a list of 25 potential heritage locations in Palestine.

A UNESCO committee will visit Battir before Dec. 25 as part of the application process, Awadullah said.

The village, with a population of about 4,500, uses an ancient system of irrigation that has provided fresh water to the community for centuries.

The proposed route of Israel's separation wall will damage the terraces used for irrigation and cut off villagers from their fields and source of income.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported Thursday that UNESCO's Ramallah office had assured the PA it would accelerate recognition of the site.

The letter was attached to a new legal petition against the planned construction of the wall around the village, which officials say would destroy the ancient heritage, the report said.

In September, the newspaper reported that an Israeli state agency had opposed the wall route in Battir, the first time an Israeli government body had challenged the wall.

The Nature and Parks Authority said the wall will also lead to the extinction of wild animals by inhibiting their movement.
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