Israel bars UNESCO from entering Jerusalem
An Israeli security officer stands infront of Al Haram Al Sharif in Jerusalem, the third holiest site in Islam. Israelis frequently prevent Muslims from praying and launch attacks against non-Jewish worshippers. AFP Photo
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Israel on Monday barred a UN commission from visiting Jerusalem to investigate ongoing violations of religious freedom against Muslims and Christians in the Holy Land.
"Israel has cancelled the delegation," which was due to have arrived the same day, a foreign ministry official told AFP.
Israel in late-April agreed that the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization could assess the state of the Old City of Jerusalem, the first such monitoring mission since 2004.
Palestinians had urged for the visit after an escalation of Israeli attacks on non-Jewish worshippers in the Old City in recent weeks.
Israel said it decided to cancel the visit because it feared Palestinians wanted to “politicize” the issue.
"The Palestinians were not respecting the understandings. The visit was supposed to be professional, (but) they were taking measures that showed they were politicizing the event and not letting the delegation focus on professional sides of it," the official said.
Israeli forces as recently as Saturday used tear gas and rubber bullets to attack a demonstration after right-wing Israelis raided al-Aqsa mosque two days earlier.
Tensions have been high around the mosque in recent weeks, as Israel has limited access to Palestinian worshipers while allowing Israelis to tour the compound under armed guard.
And earlier this month religious groups condemned Israel for attacking Orthodox Christians celebrating their easter in the Old City.
Tens of thousands of Orthodox Christians had gathered in the streets around the holy sites where clashes erupted after police blocked them from entering certain areas.
The Palestine Liberation Organization last week denounced Israel for causing "countless difficulties" for Palestinian Christians and Muslims to reach their holy sites.
Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki on Thursday announced that the UNESCO would spend five days in Jerusalem before returning to its headquarters in Paris to submit a detailed report.
Maliki said that Israeli assaults against holy places in Jerusalem were part of a systematic policy crystallized recently.
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