May 16, 2018 / 7:48 AM / 4 days ago

Guatemala opens embassy in Jerusalem, two days after U.S. move

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Guatemala opened an embassy in Jerusalem on Wednesday, two days after the United States inaugurated its new site in the contested city in a move that infuriated Palestinians and drew international condemnation.

Israeli troops shot dead dozens of Palestinian protesters on the Gaza border on Monday when the high-profile opening of the U.S. Embassy to Israel in Jerusalem by the administration of President Donald Trump raised tension to boiling point after weeks of anti-Israeli demonstrations.

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended the embassy’s opening on Wednesday in an office complex in west Jerusalem.

“It’s not a coincidence that Guatemala is opening its embassy in Jerusalem right among the first. You were always among the first. You were the second country to recognize Israel,” Netanyahu said at the ceremony, referring to its founding in 1948.

Morales said his country, Israel and the United States “share friendship, courage and loyalty”.

Guatemala was one of only a few nations that backed Trump’s decision in December to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and is only the second country to move its embassy to the holy city. Paraguay said it will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by the end of May.

Trump’s move reversed decades of U.S. policy, upsetting the Arab world and Western allies.

The status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest obstacles to forging a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, who with broad international backing want East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, as their capital.

Workers hanging from the side of a building place a banner welcoming the opening of the new Guatemalan embassy in Jerusalem, in the complex hosting the new embassy in Jerusalem, May 15, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Israel regards all of the city, including the eastern sector it annexed after the 1967 conflict, as its capital. The Trump administration has said the city’s final borders should be decided by the parties.

Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said: “The Guatemalan government has chosen to stand on the wrong side of history, to side with violations of international law and human rights, and to take a hostile step against the Palestinian people and the Arab world.”

Most world powers do not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the entire city and says its final status should be set in peace negotiations.

On the day the United States inaugurated its own embassy in Jerusalem, Israeli gunfire killed 60 Palestinians during the Gaza border protests. It was the bloodiest day in the Hamas Islamist-run enclave since a 2014 war with Israel.

Palestinian leaders said by relocating the embassy the United States had created incitement and instability in the region and abrogated its role as a peace mediator.

Palestinians have been demonstrating on the Gaza frontier for the past six weeks, demanding a return to family land or homes lost to Israel when it was founded in the 1948 Middle East war.

Slideshow (7 Images)

On Wednesday, a day after expelling Israel’s ambassador in response to the Gaza deaths, Turkey ordered the Israeli consul general in Istanbul to return home.

Prior to 1980, Guatemala and a dozen other countries maintained embassies in Jerusalem. Israel’s passage in June 1980 of a law proclaiming Jerusalem its “indivisible and eternal capital” led to a U.N. Security Council resolution calling on Guatemala and several other countries to move their embassies to Tel Aviv.

Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Dan Williams and Janet Lawrence

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