02/08/2011, 00.00
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Palestinians candidate Bethlehem as World Heritage Site

The inclusion of the city in the UNESCO list could be a push for the recognition of the State of Palestine. But the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a major obstacle, and the choice of Bethlehem, despite being wanted by the United Nations, is unlikely because Palestine is not recognized as a state.

Bethlehem (AsiaNews / Agencies) – The Palestinian Minister of Tourism has unveiled the official request for the city of Bethlehem to be part of the World Heritage Sites. According to the Palestinian authorities, the inclusion of the city in the UNESCO list should have happened some time ago, but tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have always held back its candidacy. Now there is one year before the World Heritage Committee next meets and decides on the applications, in July 2012. If Bethlehem were to be chosen, a surge in tourism is forecast, given the more than two million pilgrims already expected in 2011.

Khulud Daibes, Tourism Minister, interviewed by local media said: " We are very proud to announce that we have submitted the nomination file of Bethlehem: birthplace of Jesus, the Church of the Nativity". Moreover, the minister sees it as "a crucial moment for us Palestinians: the recognition of Bethlehem as a World Heritage Site is an integral part of our plan to end the occupation (by Israel, ed), and the creation of the State of Palestine. "

The issue is a thorny one. Because if there is no doubt that "the Church of the Nativity is a world heritage site", as said Louise Haxthausen, head of Unesco in Ramallah, who prepared the proposal with the ministry, however, the United Nations may not consider the request . The reason would be the same for which, to date, Bethlehem has not been included in the list: Palestine is not yet recognized as an independent state.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is therefore an obstacle to the inclusion of Bethlehem. Early last year, Israel decided to include Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron in a national program for the restoration of heritage sites. A decision strongly criticized by UNESCO, which said it "escalated tension" in the area.

In fact, both places are considered sacred by both religions. In response to criticism, in November 2010, Israel reduced its cooperation with UNESCO to protest the description of the tomb of the matriarch, even by the organization, as a mosque.

However, Daibes said that Bethlehem is only the first site that Palestine has decided to nominate for the list of World Heritage Sites, and the ancient city of Hebron and Jericho will be the next. The candidacy of Bethlehem has the full backing of the Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian Churches.

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