Reuters International

By Luke Baker

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's prime minister has invited all United Nations staff in Israel to attend a seminar on Jewish history, after a decision by a U.N. cultural body that failed to acknowledge Jewish ties to Jerusalem's holiest site.

In the decision last month, UNESCO condemned Israel for security restrictions and other measures at the site, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif or the al-Aqsa compound and to Jews as Temple Mount. UNESCO referred to it only by its Arabic name.

"I was shocked to hear that UNESCO adopted a decision denying any Jewish connection to the Temple Mount, our holiest site," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.

"It is hard to believe that anyone, let alone an organisation tasked with preserving history, could deny this link, which spans thousands of years."

To counter what a member of Netanyahu's staff called "this historical ignorance", the prime minister, who is a keen historian, said he would host a special lecture on Jewish history for all UN personnel in Israel.

It was not immediately clear when the seminar would be held, but staff indicated it could be next week. It was also unclear how many UN staff and diplomats planned to attend. UNESCO had no immediate comment.

UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, based in Paris, frequently issues decisions critical of Israel. Many are sponsored and seconded by Islamic states.

The holy site in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem, home to the Dome of the Rock and the Aqsa Mosque, has been a source of friction between Israel and the Muslim world for decades.

Israel seized the Old City during the 1967 Middle East war. After its capture, Israel agreed to maintain the status quo at the site, which had effectively been in Islamic hands since the 12th century.

Non-Muslims are allowed to visit the site but are not allowed to pray there. Jews instead pray at the Western Wall, a retaining wall for an ancient Jewish temple that once stood in the area where the Dome of the Rock now sits.   

In recent years, ultra-nationalist religious Jews have pushed for more access to the site and even to pray there, causing tension with Muslims, who worry the status quo might change. Netanyahu has repeatedly said it will not.

(Editing by Larry King)

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