Last Updated: Mon Feb 07, 2011 10:04 am (KSA) 07:04 am (GMT)

Palestinians want Bethlehem on UNESCO heritage list

Members of the clergy take part in the morning mass at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (File)
Members of the clergy take part in the morning mass at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (File)

The Palestinian Authority will launch a campaign on Monday to get the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Jesus's traditional birthplace, added to UNESCO's list of world heritage sites, officials said on Sunday.

The Palestinian tourism ministry will launch the drive to get the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to recognize the "Birthplace of Jesus: Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage route," to their list, a ministry statement said.

"Palestine is home to some of the most important heritage sites in the world. One of the most striking and universally significant is the Old City of Bethlehem and the birthplace of Jesus," the statement quoted Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat as saying.

"The Palestinians are eager to share their heritage with the rest of the world," he added.

The heritage of the Holy Land has taken on central role in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Last November Israel reduced its cooperation with UNESCO in protest at its description of Rachel's Tomb, a Jewish holy site near Bethlehem, as a mosque.

Rachel's Tomb, built over what is believed to be the burial place of the biblical matriarch, is the third holiest site in Judaism, but also considered a holy place for Muslims.

Earlier this year, Israel announced plans to include Rachel's Tomb and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in a national heritage restoration plan, a decision criticized by UNESCO as "escalating tension" in the area.

Israel defended the decision at the time, saying the plan involved only restoration work and promising there would be no attempt to change the delicate status quo at these sites.

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