Israel calls off UNESCO mission to Jerusalem

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Israel said it called off a United Nations investigative mission to Jerusalem’s Old City due to start Monday because of Palestinian efforts to politicise the visit, as the U.N. said it was postponed.

“Israel has cancelled the delegation,” a Foreign Ministry official told AFP.

“The Palestinians were not respecting the understandings. The visit was supposed to be professional, [but] they were taking measures that showed they were politicizing the event and not letting the delegation focus on professional sides of it,” the official said.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), however, said the mission had only been postponed.

“The mission is not cancelled, it’s been postponed. There’s no new date for it yet, and I’ve got no other details to give. The mission hasn’t yet arrived,” spokeswoman Sue Williams told AFP.

Israel in April agreed that UNESCO could assess the state of the Old City of Jerusalem, the first such monitoring mission since 2004, following pressure from Jordan and the Palestinians, who became members of the organisation in 2011.

But ahead of the start of the delegation’s work, the Palestinians were trying to “politicise” it, Israel said, contrary to understandings reached by the sides, and to change the action plan UNESCO decided upon in 2010.

“Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki recently said they considered the mission a ‘commission of inquiry,’“ the official said, “and said they would discuss political issues with the mission.”

“The Palestinians are also pushing for the delegation to visit the Temple Mount,” which is revered as Judaism’s most sacred place, said the official, using the Israeli term for the complex known to Muslims as Al-Haram Al-Sharif that houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque.Malki said the Palestinian Authority had expected Israel’s move to block the mission.

“We weren’t surprised by this decision because we believed that Israel’s agreement to [allow the mission] was not convincing,” he said.

Cultural and religious heritage is a highly politicised issue for Israel and the Palestinians.

In March, the Palestinian Authority confirmed a verbal agreement dating back to 1924 giving Jordan custodianship over Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem, whose eastern sector Israel seized in the 1967 Six-Day War.

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