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UNESCO Passes Arab Resolution: Cave of Patriarchs 'Islamic'

Rachel's Tomb, Cave of the Patriarchs now listed as Muslim sites, Israel condemned over Temple Mount 'aggression.'

Ari Soffer,

Cave of the Patriarchs in Hevron
Cave of the Patriarchs in Hevron
Flash 90

UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) passed a resolution Wednesday listing the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hevron and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem as Muslim sites.

The resolution - which passed with 26 in favor, six voted against, and 25 abstentions - condemned Israel for archaeological excavations in the Old City of Jerusalem and particularly near the Temple Mount.

An initial draft of the resolution had also called for the Kotel (Western Wall) to be listed as an Islamic site - or more specifically as an "extension of the Al Aqsa Mosque" - but that detail was hastily withdrawn after widespread condemnation, including from UNESCO's own Director-General.

The revised draft also toned-down some of the more blatant anti-Israel language in the original, including referring to Jerusalem as the "occupied capital of Palestine."

Nevertheless, the resolution accepted Wednesday does co-opt two other ancient Jewish holy sites: the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel's Tomb, which contain the remains of the Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs and are regular sites of pilgrimage for Jewish worshipers.

Both sites, however, have seen Muslims lay claim to them as well - which including the building of mosques directly on top of the Jewish shrines.

The resolution was backed by six Arab UNESCO members - Algeria, Egypt, Kuwait, Morocco, Tunisia and theUnited Arab Emirates (UAE) - who spearheaded the initiative on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.

The only countries who voted against were the United States, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Estonia.

The resolution "deeply deplores the recent repression in East Jerusalem, and the failure of Israel, the Occupying Power (sic), to cease the persistent excavations and works in East Jerusalem particularly in and around the Old City."

It also calls for the "prompt reconstruction of schools, universities, cultural heritage sites, cultural institutions, media centers and places of worship that have been destroyed or damaged by the consecutive Israeli wars on Gaza."

Israel has in fact allowed construction materials into the Gaza Strip, but construction work has been moving at a snail's pace due to corruption and inefficiencies, as well as some donor states failing to deliver on their pledges of funding to the Hamas government.

AFP contributed to this report.