Middle East

UN official spurns Netanyahu history lesson offer

A senior United Nations official Saturday brushed aside an invitation from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a lecture on Jewish history, amid a row over a flashpoint Jerusalem holy site.

Netanyahu said Friday he would host the lecture in response to a recent resolution of the UN's cultural body condemning Israeli "aggressions" against Muslims at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, while failing to mention the site's Jewish name Temple Mount.

The UNESCO executive board resolution, submitted by several Arab countries, was described by Netanyahu as "denying any Jewish connection to the Temple Mount, our holiest site".

He said the lecture, to be delivered by a scholar in the coming weeks, would educate UN staff and diplomats about the site's history.

The UN's special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Nickolay Mladenov, bristled at the suggestion that UN staff in Jerusalem were insufficiently educated.

"If someone wants to issue invitations they should be for Paris and addressed to the ambassadors of the member-states of UNESCO there," he said in a statement.

"UN staff in Jerusalem know the history of the region, its people and religions all too well."

Netanyahu last month slammed the "absurd" resolution for ignoring Judaism's connection to the Temple Mount, "where the two temples stood for a thousand years and to which every Jew in the world has prayed for thousands of years".

After Israel's reaction, UNESCO chief Irina Bokova issued a statement stressing that "Jerusalem is a Holy Land of the three monotheistic religions, a place of dialogue for all Jewish, Christian and Muslim people".

The compound in east Jerusalem, which was taken by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed in a move not recognised internationally, has long been a focal point of tensions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It has seen frequent clashes over fears that Israel is planning to change the rules that allow Muslims to pray there but Jews only to visit.

Netanyahu denies seeking to change the status quo.

According to Biblical tradition, the first and second Jewish temples were located at the site before being destroyed by the Babylonians and Romans.

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