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UNESCO passes Jerusalem resolution critical of Israel

UN cultural agency calls on 'occupying power' to end projects aimed at altering 'character and status of the Holy City'.

Old City of Jerusalem

UNESCO's executive board has passed a resolution that criticises Israel's actions in occupied Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, despite an extended offensive effort by Tel Aviv targeting the UN's cultural agency. 

The resolution, which declares Israel's sovereignty over Jerusalem "null and void", was backed by 22 countries voting in favour, a UNESCO spokesman said on Tuesday. 

The United States, Germany, Italy and seven other board members voted against the resolution. 

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Malki welcomed the result of the vote, saying that the world had chosen to "stand on the side of what is right in the face of [Israel's] injustice, occupation and its illegitimate policies.

"We will defend our heritage and culture, our past and our future. We will face all the campaigns of distortion and destruction led by the Israeli occupation authority, armed with international law and the will of our Palestinian people who are capable of creating a future free from occupation," he said.

The resolution calls on Israel, as the "occupying power", to cease "persistent excavations, tunneling, works and projects in East Jerusalem", which the Palestinians want as the capital of their future state.

It reaffirms "the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its walls for the three monotheistic religions", while accusing Israel of taking actions that have "altered, or purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City".

The resolution, which has softer wording than another UNESCO decision last year, also criticises Israel for its blockade on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

The Israeli foreign ministry, which on Tuesday called the resolution an "unnecessary politicisation of UNESCO", started ramping up its criticisms of the UN body well ahead of the vote. 

"The proposed resolution will not affect our determination to operate in Jerusalem," it said on Thursday. "It will, however, impair UNESCO's deteriorating status and relevance."

The executive board decision now goes to the plenary, which will consider the issue on Friday, UNESCO spokesman Roni Amelan said.

Israel's occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the besieged Gaza Strip, is considered illegal under international law.

More than half-a-million Israelis live in Jewish-only settlements across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, according to the Israeli rights group B'Tselem.

On the watch of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, settlements expanded an estimated 23 percent between 2009 and 2014.


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