UNESCO raises concerns over resolution on Al Aqsa compound

UNESCO raises concerns over proposal by Arab states to designate Western Wall as part of Al Aqsa mosque compound

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Jews gather to pray at the Western Wall during Succot

The United Nations raised concerns on Tuesday over a bid to classify the Western Wall, one of the holiest site in Judaism, as part of the Al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem.  The text of the proposal has yet been revealed.

“[The UNESCO director-general] deplores the recent proposals under discussion by the UNESCO Executive Board that could be seen to alter the status of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls, inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list, and that could further incite tensions,” the UN agency said, in a statement released.

The proposal will be voted on Wednesday or Thursday by UNESCO’s 58-member executive board.

The Western Wall is located in the southeastern corner of the Old City of Jerusalem. Muslims call it Al Haram al Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) as Jews call it the Temple Mount. The structure is adjacent to the Al Aqsa mosque and attracts millions of Jews every year.

The Al Aqsa site is currently under the administration of a Muslim religious trust under Jordanian custodianship. In recent months, Palestinians have accused the Israeli government - which banned Al Aqsa for non-Muslim prayers - of trying to change the status quo and provide Jews more access and prayer rights on the side.

“Jerusalem is a Holy Land of the three monotheistic religions, a place of dialogue for all Jewish, Christian and Muslim people,” UNESCO said, in the statement.

“The protection of cultural heritage should not be taken hostage, as this undermines UNESCO’s mandate and efforts.”

Clashes and violence between the Israelis and Palestinians have been caused by Israeli raids in the Al Aqsa mosque compound last month.

Since Oct. 1, at least 32 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces while seven Israelis have been killed in attacks by Palestinians.

A Palestinian demonstrator uses a slingshot to throw stones towards Israeli security forces from behind burning tires during clashes in the West Bank on October 20 2015

As the latest incident of amid escalating violence in Israel, five Palestinians were killed by gunfire on Tuesday.

In the proposal text seen by AFP on Tuesday, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates decry Israeli actions at the compound, such as the ban to Muslim worshippers during Eid celebrations last month.

Earlier this week, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned against a “dangerous escalation” of violence in the region.

“Do not allow the extremists on either side to use religion to further fuel the conflict. Palestinian and Israeli leaders -- Stand firm against terror, violence and incitement. Demonstrate in both words and deeds that the historic status quo of holy sites in Jerusalem will be preserved,” Ban said.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday that both Israeli and Palestinian leaders need to clarify the status of Al Aqsa mosque, to help bring an end to the latest bloodshed.

"Israel understands the importance of the status quo and ... our objective is to make sure that everyone understands what that means," Kerry said in a news conference in Madrid.

From Six Days War in 1967 to 2003, the Jordanian Islamic Endowments was in charge of Al Aqsa mosque, regulating the entry of non-Muslims. However, after former Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon sent Israeli security forces to raid Al Aqsa in an attempt to change the status quo, his actions triggered the second intifida. In 2003, the Israeli government decided to hand over authority of the mosque to the Israeli security forces.

TRTWorld and agencies