JERUSALEM (JTA) — The United Nations is "concerned" that two national heritage sites approved by the Israeli government are in "occupied Palestinian territory," a statement said.
The sites are not only holy to Jews but to Muslims as well, U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry said in a statement issued Monday.
At Sunday’s Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem and The Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron would be added to a list of 150 national heritage sites that Israel will rehabilitate and promote as part of a $100 million renovation and restoration plan.
"These sites are in occupied Palestinian territory and are of historical and religious significance not only to Judaism but also to Islam, and to Christianity as well," Serry’s statement said about the Hebron and Bethlehem sites.
Serry warned that "implementation of the government’s decision could harm trust between the two sides and hurt the efforts to renew talks," Haaretz reported.
Palestinians on Monday rioted at the Cave of the Patriarchs; police quelled the rioting using tear gas and stun guns. Palestinians also called a general strike in Bethlehem and Hebron.
The Orthodox Union commended Netanyahu for his decision.
“While some continue to wage a campaign to deny and obscure the historic connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel — and have even permitted Jewish sites to be defaced — that connection is deep and ancient," said a statement from OU President Stephen Savitsky and Executive Vice President Rabbi Steve Weil. "Nowhere is that Jewish connection more obvious than these two biblical sites. Nothing the Prime Minister proposes in this plan precludes peace negotiations or what may result from such negotiations.”