UNESCO puts Hebron on endangered heritage list

The UN's cultural arm gives heritage status to Hebron's Old City in the occupied West Bank

The Al Ibrahimi mosque often has heavy Israeli military presence around it.  Mussa Qawasma / Reuters
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WARSAW //  UNESCO on Friday declared the Old City of Hebron an endangered world heritage site.

Meeting in Poland, the UN's cultural arm voted 12 to three - with six abstentions - to give heritage status to Hebron's Old City in the occupied West Bank, which is home to more than 200,000 Palestinians and a few hundred Israeli settlers.

"Just inscribed on @UNESCO #WorldHeritage List & World Heritage in Danger List: Hebron/Al-Khalil Old Town," the organisation announced on its official Twitter feed.

Brought by the Palestinians, the resolution declared Hebron's Old City, including areas where settlers live, to be an area of outstanding universal value.

The resolution was fast-tracked on the basis that the site was under threat, with the Palestinians accusing Israel of an "alarming" number of violations, including vandalism and damage to properties.

The Palestinian foreign ministry called  the decision made by UNESCO  - despite US and Israeli opposition - a "success" for Palestinian diplomacy.

Hebron claims to be one of the oldest cities in the world, dating from the Chalcolithic period or more than 3,000 years BC, the Unesco resolution said.

At various times it has been conquered by Romans, Jews, Crusaders and Mamluks.

The city is home to the imposing Tomb of the Patriarchs, the resting place of key Biblical figures Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and one of the most important religious sites to Muslims and Jews alike.

Hebron  also provides a stark illustration of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A  few hundred Israelis live closed off in several small settlements, protected by hundreds of Israeli soldiers. The Palestinians are largely banned from entering and using nearby streets and say the settlements make their lives impossible.

Israel seized the West Bank in the 1967 war in a move considered illegal by the United Nations and most of the world regards the settlements in Hebron as illegal.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon immediately denounced the decision as "a moral blot", saying it denied Jewish history in the city.

"This irrelevant organisation promotes FAKE HISTORY. Shame on @UNESCO," he wrote on Twitter after the decision taken in a secret ballot by the World Heritage Committee as it met in Krakow.