Alwaght- UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has expressed regrets over the US administration’s decision to pull out of the UN Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) accusing the international body of having “anti-Israel bias.”
The US said Thursday it would establish an “observer mission” to replace its representation at UNESCO after the Paris-based body designated the old city of al-Khalil as a Palestinian heritage site.
Through his spokesman Fahran Haq, the UN chief said Thursday that he “deeply regrets” Washington’s withdrawal.
However, he appeared to downplay the move, with Haq saying that “there are times when there may be differences on this or that issue, but the secretary-general, as you have seen, works well with the government of the US.”
The Israeli regime has also announced withdrawal from UNESCO. In a statement announcing its withdrawal, Tel Aviv called Washington's decision "courageous and moral", and accused UNESCO of becoming a "theatre of the absurd".
"The prime minister instructed the foreign ministry to prepare Israel's withdrawal from the organization alongside the United States," Benjamin Netanyahu's office said in a statement.
China, Russia back UNESCO
In another development on Friday, China emphasized its support for UNESCO -- a day after the US announced it was pulling out of the cultural agency.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said, “China hopes that all countries will make a contribution to preserving international peace. We will continue our positive role in the UNESCO and also conduct cooperation with other countries in this regard.”
Russia's foreign ministry said it regretted the decision, adding that the move would disrupt a number of important projects planned by UNESCO.
"We share the concern by many countries that the activity of UNESCO has been too politicised lately," the ministry said in a statement.
UNESCO not important for US
Irina Bokova, the outgoing UNESCO head, called the US withdrawal a "loss to multilateralism", saying she is convinced that "UNESCO has never been so important for the US, or the US for UNESCO".
At a time when "conflicts continue to tear apart societies across the world, it is deeply regrettable for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations agency promoting education for peace and protecting culture under attack," she said.
Thursday's development demonstrates the US administration's "complete and total bias" towards Israel, says Mustafa Barghouti, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative, a political party comprising mostly secular intellectuals.
The US was angered in 2011 when UNESCO members granted Palestine full membership of the body, despite opposition from its ally, the occupying Israeli regime.
Israeli angered by Palestine admission as UNESCO member
Israel has long been at loggerheads with UNESCO, particularly over its decision to admit the Palestinians as members in 2011.
In July, the UN body declared the Old City of Al Khalil (Hebron) in the occupied West Bank an endangered World Heritage site.
The vote irked the regime in Tel Aviv, which had been involved in a campaign to thwart the UNESCO vote.
Netanyahu announced a $1m cut in funding to the UN, saying the UNESCO vote ignored alleged Jewish ties to the site.
Meanwhile, also in July UNESCO passed a resolution, denouncing Israel’s “illegal” practices in East al-Quds (Jerusalem) and describing the regime as an “occupying power.”
The resolution slammed “the failure of the Israeli occupying authorities to cease the persistent excavations, tunneling, works, projects and other illegal practices in East Jerusalem [al-Quds], particularly in and around the Old City of al-Quds, which are illegal under international law.”