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Unesco approves controversial Jerusalem resolution


Palestinians pray in the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City (AP)

Palestinians pray in the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City (AP)

Palestinians pray in the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City (AP)

Unesco's executive board has approved a resolution that Israel says denies the deep historic Jewish connection to holy sites in Jerusalem - and which has angered the country's government and many Jews around the world.

The board adopted the measure by consensus in its morning session at the Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

A draft form of the resolution had already been approved by a commission last week.

The resolution is not expected to have a direct impact on Jerusalem itself, but it deepened tensions within Unesco, which is also facing a diplomatic dispute between Japan and China that threatens funding.

The resolution, titled Occupied Palestine, is the latest of several measures at Unesco over decades that Israelis see as evidence of ingrained anti-Israel bias within the United Nations, where Israel and its allies are far outnumbered by Arab countries and their supporters.

Israel's concern has mounted since Unesco states admitted Palestine as a member in 2011.

Israel last week suspended its ties with Unesco over the draft resolution, which uses only the Islamic name for a hilltop compound sacred to both Jews and Muslims.

The site includes the Western Wall, a remnant of the biblical temple and the holiest site where Jews can pray.

Jews refer to the hilltop compound in Jerusalem's Old City as the Temple Mount.

Muslims refer to it as al-Haram al-Sharif, Arabic for the Noble Sanctuary, and it includes the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock.

It is the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

Israel had already suspended its funding to Unesco when Palestinian membership was approved, along with the United States, which used to provide 22% of the agency's budget.

The longstanding dispute is also linked to Israel's refusal to grant visas to Unesco experts to go into the country and assess the level of preservation of the holy sites in Jerusalem.

And now Japan, Unesco's second-biggest funder, is threatening to halt funding.

Japan announced last week it has withheld its annual Unesco dues, saying it wants to make sure the UN body properly functions to foster trust among member nations.

The decision is believed to be linked to Unesco's listing last year of Chinese Rape of Nanking documents as a memory of the world.