UNESCO has designated ruins near ancient Jericho as a world heritage site, drawing Israeli ire | Albiseyler

UNESCO has designated ruins near ancient Jericho as a world heritage site, drawing Israeli ire

A UN committee voted on Sunday to list prehistoric ruins near the ancient West Bank city of Jericho as a world heritage site in Palestine, a decision that angered Israel, which controls the territory and does not recognize a Palestinian state.

Jericho is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on Earth and is located in the part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank administered by the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority. The listing refers to the nearby archaeological site of Tell es-Sultan, which contains prehistoric ruins dating back to the ninth millennium BC and is located outside the ancient city itself.

It was decided by a meeting of the UN World Heritage Committee in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO.

Israel’s foreign ministry issued a statement on Sunday saying the listing was a “cynical” ploy by the Palestinians to politicize UNESCO and that Israel would work with its allies to reverse what it said were the organization’s “distorted” decisions.

Israel withdrew from UNESCO in 2019, accusing it of being biased against it and diminishing its connection to the Holy Land. Israel also protested the admission of Palestine as a UNESCO member state in 2011. However, Israel remains a party to the World Heritage Convention and sent a delegation to the meeting in Riyadh.

Israel captured the West Bank along with Gaza and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. The Palestinians want all three territories for their future state. Israel considers the West Bank the biblical and cultural heart of the Jewish people.

There have been no serious or substantive peace negotiations in over a decade, and Israel is currently led by the most nationalist and religious government in its history, making any move toward Palestinian statehood almost unthinkable.

The modern city of Jericho is a major attraction for tourism in the Palestinian territories, both for its historical monuments and its proximity to the Dead Sea. In 2021, the Palestinian Authority unveiled extensive renovations to one of the largest mosaics in the Middle East in an 8th-century palace in Jericho.

Tell es-Sultan, an oval-shaped mound, contains evidence of one of the earliest known human villages and an important Bronze Age city from 2600 BC It is about 2 kilometers (1.2 mi) from the remains of the first city. Jericho, which contains ruins important to Jewish history, including a synagogue from the first century BC

UNESCO, which refers to the site as ancient Jericho/Tell es-Sultan, has sought to clarify that the two are distinct.

“The property proposed for nomination is the prehistoric archaeological site of Tell es-Sultan located outside the ancient site of Jericho,” said Ernesto Ottone, UNESCO’s deputy director-general, during a meeting to discuss the site.

“The later historical development, which spans millennia and is demonstrated by material remains beyond the boundaries of Tell as-Sultan, presents a rich cultural context worthy of historical interest and preservation, including Jewish and Christian heritage, among others. However, this is not the subject of the proposed nomination.’

Historical heritage has long been one of the many foci of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with both sides using archeology and conservation to demonstrate what they say is their own unique connection to the Holy Land.

The Palestinian Authority, recognized ten years ago by the United Nations as a non-member observer state, welcomed the designation Tell es-Sultan.

President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement that it “testifies to the authenticity and history of the Palestinian people,” adding that “the State of Palestine is committed to preserving this unique place for the benefit of humanity.”

Israel had no immediate comment.

Paris-based UNESCO launched the World Heritage List in 1978. It covers a wide range of more than 1,000 sites – from the Acropolis of Athens to the Great Wall of China – nominated by the respective nations.

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