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UNESCO committee to vote on Israeli violations at Al-Aqsa

July 10, 2016 6:38 P.M. (Updated: July 11, 2016 4:09 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will reportedly vote on a draft concerning Israeli military violations in occupied East Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, according to a statement by the director general of Israel's foreign ministry.

Ynet news reported that the joint Jordanian-Palestinian draft would be voted on during the 40th annual session meeting of UNESCO's World Heritage Committee, which began in Istanbul on Sunday, and will last ten days.

The document reportedly accuses Israel of “misconduct” on the compound, citing “deliberate vandalism” and damage to Muslim holy sites, which Israel’s foreign ministry reportedly called “malicious and dishonest.”

However, the website of the World Heritage Committee meeting in Istanbul did not mention that a vote related to the Al-Aqsa compound was on the agenda. A UNESCO spokesperson was not immediately available for comment on the issue.

A similar resolution was passed in April, when the World Heritage Committee unilaterally condemned "Israeli aggressions and illegal measures against the freedom of worship and Muslims’ access to their Holy Site Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al Sharif.”

The resolution deplored the “continuous storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif by the Israeli right-wing extremists and uniformed forces,” and urged Israel, which it called “the Occupying Power,” to take necessary measures to “prevent provocative abuses that violate the sanctity and integrity” of the holy site.

Following the resolution, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the language of the draft decision for ignoring Jewish ties to the holy site, and announced that he would be holding an educational seminar for UN personnel on Jewish history.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque, cherished as the third holiest site in Islam, is located in East Jerusalem, a part of the internationally recognized Palestinian territory which has been occupied by the Israeli army for almost 50 years.

It is also venerated as Judaism's most holy place, as it sits where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, and some Jewish extremists have called for the destruction of the Al-Aqsa Mosque so as to build a Third Temple in its place.

Because of the sensitive nature of the Al-Aqsa compound, Israel maintains a compromise with the Islamic trust that controls it to not allow non-Muslim prayers in the area. However, Israeli forces regularly escort Jewish visitors to the site, in an attempt to challenge the status quo and leading to tensions with Palestinian worshipers.

Similar to the one passed in April, the current proposed draft also reportedly calls on Israel to restore the “historic status quo that prevailed until September 2000, under which the Jordanian Waqf (Religious Foundation) Department exercised exclusive authority on Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif,” including maintenance, restoration, and regulating access.

Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry Dore Gold said in a statement that the current proposed draft was “completely one sided," saying that "Israel defends religious freedom for all of the great faiths -- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam -- against the tide of intolerance sweeping the Middle East Region."

Gold continued on in his criticism of the draft, deeming it as "hypocritical" and "totally disconnected from the reality on the ground."

Despite the passing of the resolution in April, the reality on the ground at Al-Aqsa have remained tense, as right-wing Israelis toured the site for the Jewish Passover holiday, which saw the banning of some 70 Palestinians from the site, several Israeli extremists evacuated, and weekly visits for Palestinians from the Gaza Strip suspended for two consecutive weeks.

Palestinians from Gaza and the occupied West Bank have been subjected to punitive measures in recent months, as Israel froze thousands of permits that were issued in order to allow Palestinian citizens to travel into occupied East Jerusalem to attend prayers during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Multiple incidents of extremist Israeli settlers touring the compound were reported over the course of the Muslim holy month, which ended last week, with its final ten days marked by violent clashes between Israeli forces and Muslim worshipers, resulting in dozens of injuries and arrests.
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