A group of Arab states has angered Israel by submitting a draft resolution to the UN cultural body stating that Jerusalem's Western Wall -- the holiest site at which Jews can pray -- is an "integral part" of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound.
The flashpoint compound, which is considered sacred to both Islam and Judaism, is located in the southeastern corner of the Old City in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem. Muslims call it Al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) while Jews rever it as the Temple Mount which housed the First and Second Temples.
Located adjacent to the sprawling esplanade, the Western Wall is the most sacred site at which Jews are allowed to pray as they are not permitted to worship at the compound itself.
Clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters at the compound in September are widely thought to have led to the current wave of deadly violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
In the draft text seen by AFP on Tuesday, Algeria, Egypt, Kuwait, Morocco, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates condemn Israeli actions at the compound, including restricting access to Muslim worshippers during Eid celebrations last month over security fears.
It also states that "the Buraq Plaza (the name given to the square in front of the Western Wall) is an integral part of the Al Aqsa Mosque/Al Haram Al-Sharif."
The draft will be put to a vote on Wednesday or Thursday within UNESCO's 58-member executive board.
- 'Distorting history' -
Israel denounced the statement as "a clear endeavour to distort history" and appropriate the site.
"The Temple Mount and the Western Wall in the heart of Jerusalem lie at the foundation of Jewish history. These are incontrovertible facts of history," said Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely.
UNESCO chief Irina Bokova on Tuesday expressed concern over the matter.
"She deplores the recent proposals under discussion by the UNESCO executive board that could be seen to alter the status of the Old City of Jerusalem and its walls, inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage list, and that could further incite tensions," the UN body said in a statement.
"The director-general appeals to the UNESCO executive board to take decisions that do not further inflame tensions on the ground and that encourage respect for the sanctity of the holy sites."
The Al-Aqsa compound is a 14-hectare (35-acre) rectangular esplanade at the southeast corner of the Old City which was seized by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed in a move never internationally recognised.
Israel considers all of Jerusalem as its undivided capital, but the Palestinians want the eastern sector as capital of their future state.
Believed to be where the Prophet Mohammed made his night journey to heaven, it is the third-holiest site in Islam after the Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet's Mosque in Medina, both in Saudi Arabia.
The esplanade is also revered as the holiest site in Judaism because it housed both the First and Second Temple.
Jews are allowed to enter the compound itself, but are forbidden from praying there for fear of triggering tensions with Muslim worshippers.
Today, the holiest site at which Jews can pray is the Western Wall -- the last remnant of supporting wall of the Second Temple complex.