BETHLEHEM – Palestinian officials, diplomats, religious figures and a few hundred Palestinians on Saturday partook in the celebration of the addition of the Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route to UNESCO’s World Heritage List a week ago in St. Petersburg.

PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said the inclusion is “the most remarkable event on the path of Palestinian state-building since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority.”

Speaking from the podium in front of Manger Square in Bethlehem, Fayyad said that UNESCO’s decision is important as it evidences an international acknowledgment of Palestinian sovereignty over their land in the pre-1967 lines.

“It’s a recognition of our people, who deserve and are able to protect this humane heritage that Bethlehem and its jewel, the Nativity Church, represent,” he added.

Fayyad called on the UN’s institutions to protect the Palestinian people, land, holy places and human heritage from the Israeli “occupation” and “terror” of its settlers.

The prime minister was joined by Palestinian officials in inaugurating a plaque commemorating the UNESCO success.

“Here we are from the heart of Bethlehem where we overlook the Aksa mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the eternal capital of our future state,” he said.

“It [joining the list] brings hope and confidence in the triumph of our just case,” Fayyad said, thanking all ambassadors, ministries and departments that followed the Palestinian UNESCO file.

The square was decorated with large signs, one of which read “Palestine: Thank you UNESCO,” and another proclaiming “Yes to Bethlehem.” Women involved in organizing the event wore Palestinian folk dresses.

On June 29, the birthplace of Jesus Christ became the first Palestinian site on the World Heritage List. This follows a vote by UNESCO’s states in October 2011 that recognized Palestine as a member state – the first UN organization to do so.

The PA Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities said it began preparing the nomination file in 2010, even though Palestine was not yet a UNESCO member. “The choice of Bethlehem was intended and was based on the inarguable, outstanding universal value of the town,” the ministry said in a statement.

Following Palestine’s admission at UNESCO, the PA adopted four agreements, the most important of which was a convention regarding the protection of world cultural and natural heritage sites – which enabled Palestine to submit the nomination file.

Maisa Hanna, a 39-year-old mother of three who brought her children to the event, told The Jerusalem Post that she feels proud that Palestinians are getting world recognition. “We are now behaving like other states in the world,” she said.

“This will hopefully lead us to an independent state. I want them to be happy for their country.”

Right across the podium, some citizens and tourists sat in the square’s few coffee shops. Khader Kan’an, manager of The Square restaurant, told the Post that he did not view the UNESCO move as crucial.

“It’s not an achievement but at the same time, it’s not irrelevant. But I don’t think it will affect the tourism in the city,” he said, explaining that the world already knows about Bethlehem’s attractions.”

The tourism ministry’s statement named 20 sites it was considering for future list nominations. This included the cities of Bethlehem, Hebron and Nablus; archeological sites such as the Saint Hilarion Monastery in Gaza; and natural sites such as the Dead Sea and the Wadi Gaza Coastal Wetlands.

Singer Sana Moussa sang “Mawtini (My Homeland)” as the crowd stood up and waved their Palestinian flags, which were distributed right before the start of the event. The host had asked them to wave their flags for “sovereignty."

As bands played patriotic songs, people danced for the rest of the evening.

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