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Unesco Names Nativity Church on Endangered World Heritage

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization put Bethlehem’s Church of Nativity on its list of World Heritage in Danger sites today, said Sue Williams, a spokeswoman.

“The church was inscribed today as a site that is in danger and requires support,” Williams said by phone. The vote was 13-6 with two abstentions, she said.

Paris-based Unesco maintains a list of 911 sites that carry World Heritage status. The Bethlehem church becomes the 38th site listed as endangered, according to Unesco’s website.

“This is proof that Unesco is motivated by political and not cultural considerations,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a text message to journalists.

The organization’s members voted overwhelmingly on Oct. 31 to admit Palestine as a member state. Among those opposed were Israel and the U.S., which cut off funding for the agency on the same day. The two countries have also fought to stop the Palestinian bid for UN membership.

The Unesco decision, which responded to a Palestinian request that said Israel was to blame for damage to Bethlehem’s churches, was applauded by Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee.

“It is a welcome recognition by the international community of our historical and cultural rights in this land, and our commitment to the protection and preservation of such significant Palestinian cultural and religious sites in spite of the Israeli occupation and all its prejudicial measures,” Ashrawi said.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said that while there was no objection by Israel to the placing of the Church of Nativity on the World Heritage list, the Palestinians were turning Unesco “into a propaganda tool against Israel.”

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