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UN committee votes to list ruins near ancient Jericho as a World Heritage Site in Palestine

Locator map of Israel and the Palestinian Territories.Uncredited/Associated Press

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — A UN conference voted Sunday to list prehistoric ruins near the ancient West Bank city of Jericho as a World Heritage Site in Palestine, a decision likely to anger Israel, which controls the territory and does not recognize a Palestinian state.

Jericho is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities on earth, and is in a part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank that is administered by the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority. The listing refers to the Tel es-Sultan archaeological site nearby, which contains prehistoric ruins dating back to the ninth millenium B.C. and is outside the ancient city itself.

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The decision was taken at a meeting of the UN World Heritage Committee in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, under the auspices of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO.

Israel quit UNESCO in 2019, accusing it of being biased against it and of diminishing its connection to the Holy Land. Israel also objected to UNESCO’s acceptance of Palestine as a member state in 2011. But Israel remains a party to the World Heritage Convention, and it sent a delegation to the meeting in Riyadh.

Israel captured the West Bank, along with Gaza and east Jerusalem, in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians want all three territories for their future state. Israel views the West Bank as the biblical and cultural heartland of the Jewish people.

There have been no serious or substantive peace negotiations in over a decade, and Israel is currently led by the most nationalist and religious government in its history, making any move toward Palestinian statehood nearly unimaginable.

The modern city of Jericho is a major draw for tourism to the Palestinian territories, both because of its historical sites and proximity to the Dead Sea. In 2021, the Palestinian Authority unveiled major renovations to one of the largest mosaics in the Middle East, in a Jericho palace dating back to the 8th century.

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