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Middle East

Palestinians anger Israel over Unesco role in Bethlehem


Unesco's World Heritage committee has approved a Palestinian bid to place the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on its list of sites of World Heritage in Danger – a move seen by some nations as dangerously mixing politics and culture.

Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi said the vote was an affirmation of Palestinian sovereignty over the site that marks the place where Christians believe Jesus was born.

Israel angrily denounced the vote, with foreign ministry spokeswoman Ilana Stein saying the decision "has turned Unesco into a theatre of the absurd".

The 21-member committee, meeting in St Petersburg, Russia, voted 13-6 to include the church and pilgrimage route, located in the Israeli-controlled West Bank, on its list of sites. There were two abstentions.

The drive to get the Nativity church quickly recognised as a World Heritage site was part of the Palestinians' effort to win international recognition since attempts to establish a Palestinian state through negotiations with Israel are frozen.

The United States was among nations opposed to the Palestinian proposal of an emergency candidacy for the Christian site, shortcutting what is usually an 18-month-long process to apply for World Heritage recognition. The US ambassador to Unesco, David Killion, said the United States is "profoundly disappointed".