PARIS - The head of the United Nations cultural body UNESCO expressed concern Friday at the escalating tension caused by Israel's apparent move to strengthen its control on two Palestinian West Bank historical sites.
Hardline Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu triggered another row this week when he said he hoped to include Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the Palestinian city of Hebron in an Israeli national heritage restoration plan.
The two sites are in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian West Bank and are revered by both Jews and Muslims, and the Tomb of the Patriarchs, where Prophet Abraham is said to have been buried, has been a flashpoint for decades.
UNESCO chief Irina Bokova "expressed her concern" at Netanyahu's announcement and "at the resulting escalation of tension in the area".
Bokova endorsed a statement by Robert Serry, UN coordinator for the Middle East peace process
"The director general reiterated UNESCO's long-standing conviction that cultural heritage should serve as a means for dialogue," her statement said.
Palestinian anger over Netanyahu's apparent attempt to reinforce Israeli claims on the Palestinian sites has triggered four days of clashes between stone-throwing protesters and Israeli forces.
The United States has also criticised the announcement as "provocative", as have some of Netanyahu's critics inside Israel.