UNESCO designates ruins near ancient Jericho as world heritage site, angering Israelis

There have been no serious or substantive peace negotiations in more than a decade, and Israel is currently led by the most nationalist and religious government in its history, making any progress toward a Palestinian state almost unimaginable.

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

Tell es-Sultan, an oval-shaped mound, contains traces of one of the earliest villages known to mankind and an important Bronze Age city dating to 2600 BC. It is about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from the remains of the first city of Jericho, which contains ruins important to Jewish history, including a synagogue dating from the first century BC

UNESCO, which qualifies the site as ancient Jericho/Tell es-Sultan, was careful to point out that the two are distinct.

“The nominated property is the prehistoric archaeological site of Tell es-Sultan located outside the ancient site of Jericho,” Ernesto Ottone, Deputy Director-General of UNESCO, said during the meeting on the site.

“Subsequent historical developments, spanning millennia and demonstrated by material remains beyond the borders of Tell as-Sultan, constitute a rich cultural context, worthy of historical interest and preservation, covering among other things the Jewish and Christian heritage. However, this is not the purpose of the proposed application.

Historical heritage has long been one of many flashpoints in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with both sides using archeology and conservation to demonstrate what they say is their own unique connection to the Holy Land.

The Palestinian Authority, recognized ten years ago by the United Nations as a non-member observer state, welcomed the designation of Tell es-Sultan.

President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement that it “testifies to the authenticity and history of the Palestinian people,” adding that “the State of Palestine is committed to preserving this unique site for the benefit of the humanity”.

There was no immediate comment from Israel.

Paris-based UNESCO launched the World Heritage List in 1978. It includes a wide range of more than 1,000 sites – from the Acropolis of Athens to the Great Wall of China – nominated by their respective nations.


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