JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel lashed out at the U.N. cultural agency on Tuesday over a resolution criticizing its excavations in and around Jerusalem's Old City, a sensitive area that is home to holy sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims.
The UNESCO resolution, tabled by several Arab countries and approved on Tuesday, calls on Israel, as the "occupying Power," to cease "persistent excavations, tunneling, works and projects in east Jerusalem," which the Palestinians claim as the capital of their future state. Israel views the entire city as its capital.
"There is no other people in the world for whom Jerusalem is as holy and important as for the Jewish people," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the International Bible Quiz in Jerusalem on Tuesday, Israel's Independence Day. He said UNESCO is "trying to deny this simple truth."
The Old City is home to the Temple Mount — the location of the biblical temples and Judaism's holiest site. Muslims refer to the area, which now hosts two mosques, as the Noble Sanctuary, their third holiest site after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
Israeli archaeological excavations and other infrastructure projects in the Old City have long stoked tensions.
The UNESCO resolution reaffirmed "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."
Israel captured east Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed the area in a move that has not been recognized internationally.
The resolution, submitted by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan, was approved by 22 member states, with 10 voting against and 23 abstaining. Israel has long complained of bias at U.N. forums, where it and its allies are often outnumbered by Arab nations and others that support the Palestinians.
UNESCO caused an uproar last year when member states approved a resolution that diminished Jewish ties to holy sites in Jerusalem. Israel suspended cooperation with the agency in response.
Elias Wadih Sanbar, the Palestinian ambassador to UNESCO, said Tuesday's resolution was part of efforts to "stop giving a kind of blank check to an occupier that is acting with total illegality and impunity.
The Israeli ambassador to the agency, Shama Hacohen, said those who supported the motion "have to feel ashamed."
"There is no reason to vote against any country, and especially on its Independence Day, and especially on a decision that tries to delete the historical connection of the Jewish people, a 3,000-year connection."
The fate of Jerusalem has been one of the thorniest issues in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which last broke down in 2014.
Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said he had instructed the country's representative to UNESCO to vote against "the latest politicized resolution on Jerusalem."
"Our opinion is very clear: UNESCO can't become the headquarters of a permanent ideological clash in which questions are faced for which the solutions are supposed to be handled in other headquarters," Alfano was quoted as saying by the Italian news agency ANSA.
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