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Palestinian landscape is newest World Heritage Site

By Katia Hetter, CNN
updated 8:33 PM EDT, Fri June 20, 2014
The ancient West Bank village of Battir near Bethlehem was named Friday to the UNESCO List of World Heritage in Danger.
The ancient West Bank village of Battir near Bethlehem was named Friday to the UNESCO List of World Heritage in Danger.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • UNESCO is picking new World Heritage Sites through Wednesday
  • Ancient West Bank village of Battir named to prestigious World Heritage List
  • Battir's ancient terraces date back some 2,000 years to Roman times

(CNN) -- The ancient West Bank village of Battir is the newest World Heritage Site.

The UNESCO's World Heritage Committee on Friday named Battir to the organization's prestigious World Heritage List. It also added the site to a subset of the heritage list, a much smaller compilation of sites in danger.

The UNESCO committee is considering 36 natural and culturally significant sites for possible inclusion on the World Heritage List during a meeting in Qatar through Wednesday. A handful of World Heritage Sites are being considered for the list of sites in danger.

The Palestinian government had made an emergency request before the meeting for the "cultural landscape" of the ancient village of Battir, a few miles outside Bethlehem, to be on both lists.

Battir's ancient terraces date back some 2,000 years to Roman times. Some of the terraces "are irrigated for market garden production," according to UNESCO. And others are planted with grapevines and olive trees. The terraces' irrigation network is supplied by underground sources and shared with village families.

The landscape is in danger of being damaged by Israel's plans to build a barrier, or what UNESCO describes as a separation wall through the area. The "wall may isolate farmers from fields they have cultivated for centuries," according to a UNESCO statement.

The Church of the Nativity, including a pilgrimage route, is the other Palestinian World Heritage Site, and it's already on the list in danger. The church in Bethlehem is identified as the birthplace of Jesus.

Explore Yellowstone and 11 more World Heritage Sites

Nations sometimes spend years developing their pitches to qualify for the World Heritage List, and they must convince the UNESCO committee that they will protect their sites and support them financially.

The United States doesn't have much sway over UNESCO decisions anymore. That's because the U.S. government withdrew its dues and other financial contributions to UNESCO in 2011 after the agency admitted the Palestinian government as full members representing a country. After failing to pay its dues for two years, the United States lost UNESCO voting rights in 2013 per the agency's rules.

Nearly 1,000 natural and cultural wonders

From 1978 through 2013, 981 natural and cultural sites around the world have been inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List.

Think Yellowstone National Park or Mount Fuji.

The site must be of outstanding universal value, and it must also meet at least one of 10 criteria such as "representing a masterpiece of human creative genius," containing "exceptional natural beauty" or being an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement.

The UNESCO committee is expected to name more World Heritage Sites over the next week.

Before this month's meeting, there were 44 sites on the endangered list, including spots in Syria, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The committee added two other sites to the List of World Heritage in Danger this week. One is the Bolivian city of Potosi, which is threatened by mining operations. Tanzania's Selous Game Reserve was added to the list because of widespread poaching that has caused a serious decline in the wildlife populations there, including a 90% drop in the elephant and rhino population since 1982.

At the same time, Tanzania's Ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani and Ruins of Songo Mnara were removed from the endangered list due to improved management and safeguards.

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