The United Nations on Tuesday raised concerns over a proposal by some Arab states to classify the Western Wall -- venerated by Jews as one of the holiest sites in Judaism -- as part of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem. The text of the proposal, which is reportedly being discussed by Unesco’s executive board, has not been made public.
“[The Unesco director-general] deplores the recent proposals under discussion by the Unesco Executive Board that could be seen to alter the status of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls, inscribed on Unesco’s World Heritage list, and that could further incite tensions,” the U.N. agency said, in a statement released Tuesday.
The Western Wall, also known as Kotel, is located in the Old City of Jerusalem. Jews believe it to be the remnant of the retaining wall of the mount on which the Holy Temple once stood. The structure, which is managed by the Rabbi of the Western Wall, is adjacent to the Al-Aqsa mosque and is visited by millions of Jews every year.
Currently, the Al-Aqsa site is under the administration of a Muslim religious trust under Jordanian custodianship. In recent months, Palestinian authorities have accused the Israeli government -- which maintains a ban on non-Muslim prayers there -- of attempting to change the status quo and of trying to provide Jews more access and prayer rights at the site.
“Jerusalem is a Holy Land of the three monotheistic religions, a place of dialogue for all Jewish, Christian and Muslim people,” Unesco said, in the statement. “The protection of cultural heritage should not be taken hostage, as this undermines Unesco’s mandate and efforts.”
The comments come at a time of heightened violence between Jews and Muslims in the region over the disputed status of their holy site -- known as Temple Mount to Jews and Haram al-Sharif to Muslims. So far, in a spate of violence that has stretched for over a month, 10 Israelis and 46 Palestinians have lost their lives.
Earlier this week, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned against a “dangerous escalation” of violence in the region.
“Do not allow the extremists on either side to use religion to further fuel the conflict. Palestinian and Israeli leaders -- Stand firm against terror, violence and incitement. Demonstrate in both words and deeds that the historic status quo of holy sites in Jerusalem will be preserved,” Ban said.