UNESCO chair at Gaza university angers Israel

AFP , Thursday 12 Jul 2012

UNESCO's decision to establish a chair at the Palestinian Gaza Islamic University triggers Israeli anger

Delegates cheer after they approved the membership of Palestine in a vote of 107-14 with 52 abstentions, during the session of UNECOS's 36th General Conference in Paris on Monday, October 2011. (Photo: AP)

The head of Gaza's Islamic University on Thursday defended UNESCO's decision to establish a chair at the institution, which Israel dubbed a "breeding ground for Hamas terrorists."

"The Islamic University is a purely academic university that is interested only in education and its development," Kamaline Shaath said in a statement. The university on Wednesday inaugurated the chair in Astronomy, Astrophysics and Space Sciences at a ceremony attended by Shaath and UNESCO representative Derek Elias.

That prompted Israeli anger, with foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor calling it "another stupid decision" by UNESCO, the UN's cultural agency. "UNESCO has taken another stupid decision, which this time has the distinction of being anti-Palestinian, because of all the Palestinian universities, they chose an establishment that serves as a terrorist base for Hamas," he told AFP.

The chair, which UNESCO said would "promote teaching, research and outreach activities in astronomy, astrophysics and space sciences," is the first the organisation has created in Gaza. It has created other similar chairs at Palestinian universities in the West Bank, which is governed by the Palestinian Authority, dominated by Hamas's rival movement Fatah. The Israeli foreign ministry called the Islamic University "a known greenhouse and breeding ground for Hamas terrorists," accusing the institution of helping Hamas develop and store weapons.

At the inauguration ceremony, Shaath said "the creation of this chair at this moment represents a sign of the lifting of the siege imposed on Gaza" by Israel. The Palestinians gained UNESCO membership last year after a contentious bid that was opposed by Israel and the United States. On June 29, the organisation agreed to inscribe Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity on its World Heritage List, after an emergency application by the Palestinians.

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