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Middle East

Unesco declares Hebron shrine as Palestinian, angering Israel

Palestinians attend the Friday prayer outside al-Ibrahimi mosque, which Jews call the Tomb of the Patriarchs, in the West Bank city of Hebron June 16, 2017

The United Nations’ cultural organisation declared an ancient shrine in the occupied West Bank, that is revered by Muslims and Jews, a ‘Palestinian World Heritage Site in Danger’ on Friday, angering Israel.

Unesco took the decision at a meeting in Krakow, Poland to declare Hebron and the two adjoined shrines at its heart – the Jewish Tomb of the Patriarchs and the Muslim Ibrahimi Mosque – as Palestinian.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was “another delusional Unesco decision” and said that Israel would “continue to guard the Cave of the Patriarchs, to ensure religious freedom for everybody and … guard the truth.”

Palestinian Foreign Minister, Reyad Al-Maliki, said the vote was proof of the “successful diplomatic battle Palestine has launched on all fronts in the face of Israeli and American pressure on (Unesco) member countries.”

Hebron is the largest Palestinian city in the occupied West Bank with a population of some 200,000. About 1,000 Israeli settlers live in the heart of the city and for years it has been a place of religious friction between Muslims and Jews.

Jews believe that the Cave of the Patriarchs is where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their wives, are buried. Muslims, who, like Christians, also revere Abraham, built the Ibrahimi mosque, also known as the Sanctuary of Abraham, in the 14th century.

The religious significance of the city has made it a focal point for settlers, who are determined to expand the Jewish presence there. Living in the heart of the city, they require intense security, with some 800 Israeli troops protecting them.

Netanyahu added: “Only where Israel is present, like in Hebron, is freedom of worship assured for everybody. Throughout the Middle East, mosques, churches and synagogues are being blown up — places where Israel is not present.”

Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan, a member of Netanyahu’s inner circle of ministers, tweeted: “Unesco will continue to adopt delusional decisions but history cannot be erased … we must continue to manifest our right by building immediately in the Cave of the Patriarchs.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said: ‎‏”The Jewish connection to Hebron goes back thousands of years (and) Hebron (is) the birthplace of King David’s kingdom.”

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