Israel apologises for deputy minister's quake comments

A firefighter stands on Oct 28, 2016 in front of the collapsed bell tower of the Santa Maria in Via church. The area has been cordoned off for safety reasons in Camerino, where 80 per cent of the houses have been left uninhabitable after two earthqua
A firefighter stands on Oct 28, 2016 in front of the collapsed bell tower of the Santa Maria in Via church. The area has been cordoned off for safety reasons in Camerino, where 80 per cent of the houses have been left uninhabitable after two earthquakes hit the region. PHOTO: AFP

JERUSALEM (AFP) - Israel apologised on Saturday (Oct 29) after a deputy minister said an earthquake in Italy was punishment for a Unesco resolution on east Jerusalem that has angered the Jewish state.

Ayub Kara, deputy minister of regional cooperation, said Wednesday he was sure the quake that hit central Italy the same day happened because of the resolution, which Israel has said denies the Jewish connection to the city.

"We repudiate the remarks of Deputy Minister Kara," a foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement.

"Since making the statement, Deputy Minister Kara has issued an apology, which is also endorsed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs," it said.

Kara is a Druze lawmaker from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's far-right Likud party.

The Arab-sponsored resolution passed by the UN cultural agency on October 18 criticised the Jewish state for restricting access to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in annexed east Jerusalem.

Israel is furious that the Unesco resolution refers to the holy site in Jerusalem's Old City only by its Muslim name, Al-Aqsa or Al-Haram al-Sharif.

Jews refer to the site as the Temple Mount and it is considered the holiest site in Judaism.

Israel recalled its ambassador to Unesco for consultations on Wednesday over the issue.

Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi last week described the resolution as "incomprehensible and unacceptable" and said his officials should have voted against it instead of abstaining.

Israel occupied and later annexed Palestinian east Jerusalem in 1967 in a move never recognised by the international community.

Unesco is responsible for protecting important heritage sites and is one of the few international organisations that recognise Palestine as a member state.