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September 23, 2017

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Palestine authorities maintain Nativity church UNESCO bid

PARIS -- The Palestinians plan to go ahead with their bid to put one of Christianity's holiest sites on UNESCO's World Heritage List despite a negative report by experts, their envoy to the body said Thursday.

Ambassador Elias Sanbar said the report on the Church of the Nativity was "biased" and "politicized" and was influenced by the United States and Israel, which sought to block the Palestinians from joining UNESCO last October.

Paris-based UNESCO said last week that its World Heritage Committee would consider the church in Bethlehem for inclusion on the prestigious list during its next meeting from June 24 to July 6 in Saint Petersburg.

The full site to be listed would be the "Birthplace of Jesus: Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem," UNESCO said, noting that it would be the first such site in the occupied Palestinian territories.

But the International Council on Monuments and Sites, which evaluates sites for UNESCO, last week delivered a negative report that said the Palestinians had not carried out a full survey of threats to the site.

Sanbar rejected that report, saying that "those who lost the battle in the vote on Palestine's admission to UNESCO want to prevent us from exercising our rights."

The Palestinians were admitted to UNESCO in October, when its general assembly voted 107-14 to make Palestine its 195th member.

The result angered the United States, Israel's staunch ally, which says the Palestinians must reach a peace agreement with the Jewish state before they can become full members of an international organization.

Israel and the United States subsequently cut funding to UNESCO, depriving the organization of 22 percent of its revenues.

The Church of the Nativity is the most visited tourist site in the Palestinian territories, welcoming 1.5 million visitors in 2010.

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