BETHLEHEM, West Bank - The Associated Press
The Palestinians on June 29 persuaded the U.N. cultural agency to list the Church of the Nativity, the place where Christians believe Jesus was born, as an endangered World Heritage site despite misgivings by churches in charge of the basilica.
The Palestinians hailed the nod by UNESCO as a step forward in their quest for global recognition of an independent Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, captured by Israel
The centuries-old basilica is located in a part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank where the Palestinians have self-rule. UNESCO’s decision was seen by them as validation of their rights to the territory.
The Palestinians had argued that the shrine faces imminent danger, both because of overdue repairs and Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank. Israel
and the U.S. strongly opposed the emergency bid, arguing that the church is not under threat, a position backed by a U.N. experts committee.
Israel has said that it is not opposed to the church’s listing as a world heritage site, but that it objects to what it calls the Palestinians’ using Unesco as a political tool against Israel, according to the New York Times.
“The world should remember that the vhurch, which is sacred to Christians, was desecrated in the past by Palestinian terrorists,” Israeli prime minister’s office said in a statement, a reference to Palestinian gunmen occupying the church in 2002 along with clerics and civilians who had taken refuge there as Israeli tanks and troops pushed into Bethlehem. The Israeli military action was part of a broader offensive after months of Palestinian suicide bombings inside Israel. The church remained under siege for 39 days.”