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Arab League and Palestinians condemn opening of Czech Jerusalem office

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - The Palestinian Authority and the Arab League on Saturday condemned the Czech Republic’s opening of a diplomatic office in Jerusalem as a violation of international law.

FILE PHOTO: Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Israeli Public Security Minister Amir Ohana unveil a sign during an inauguration ceremony of a Czech diplomatic representation in Jerusalem March 11, 2021. Sebastian Scheiner/Pool via REUTERS

Prague opened a Jerusalem branch of its Israel embassy, which is located in Tel Aviv, on Thursday.

The inauguration was attended by Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, two weeks after Israel sent 5,000 Moderna COVID-19 vaccine doses to the Czech Republic under a “vaccine diplomacy” programme that later came under legal scrutiny and was frozen.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry called Prague’s move “a blatant attack on the Palestinian people and their rights, a flagrant violation of international law,” and said it would harm peace prospects.

In Cairo, Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in a statement: “The legal status of Jerusalem will be affected by the decision of one country or another to open representative offices. East Jerusalem is an occupied land under the International law.”

Underlining that the Jerusalem office was not an embassy, the Czech Foreign Ministry said it was meant to strengthen Prague’s strategic partnership with Israel and improve services for Czech citizens there.

“The establishment of the office has no impact on the will of the Czech Republic to further develop political and economic relations with the Palestinian Authority,” it said.

Jerusalem’s status is one of the thorniest issues in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel annexed the eastern part of the city in a move not recognised internationally, and regards all of Jerusalem as its capital.

The Palestinians seek East Jerusalem, which Israel captured along with the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Middle East War, as the capital of a future independent state.

Babis described Israel as a “strategic partner” and hailed the new office as a “milestone in our co-operation.”

Only two countries have full embassies in Jerusalem: the United States - after former U.S. President Donald Trump broke with decades of U.S. policy to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel - and Guatemala.

Although it formally supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Czech Republic was named in an International Criminal Court pre-trial decision last month as one of the countries supporting Israel’s argument that the court should not investigate war crimes in the Palestinian territories.

Babis said on Thursday that “the Czech Republic doesn’t consider Palestine to be a state, therefore the court has no jurisdiction over it.”

Additional reporting by Stephen Farrell, and Jason Hovet in Prague, Writing by Maayan Lubell, Editing by Angus MacSwan and Timothy Heritage