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Guatemala opens Israel embassy in Jerusalem after US move

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

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JERUSALEM, Undefined (AFP) — Guatemala inaugurated its Israel embassy in Jerusalem on Wednesday, becoming the first country to follow in the footsteps of the United States' deeply controversial move that was accompanied by deadly violence on the Gaza border.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales were among officials who attended a ceremony inaugurating the new embassy at an office park in the disputed city, which is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The US and Guatemalan moves break with decades of international consensus. US ambassador to Israel David Friedman also attended Wednesday's ceremony.

Previously Guatemala's embassy was in Herzliya, just north of Tel Aviv like that of Paraguay, so far the only other mission with immediate plans to move to Jerusalem.

Paraguay's embassy is expected to relocate before the end of the month.

Netanyahu profusely praised Guatemala for making the move and noted it came only two days after the United States opened its embassy in Jerusalem.

The Israeli premier spoke of Guatemala's early recognition of the state of Israel after its creation in 1948 and said he would visit the country of 16 million on his next visit to Latin America.

"I look forward to assessing with you the practical ways... that we can advance this friendship and this alliance," Netanyahu said.

"But today, I just want to say how delighted we are to have you."

Morales called it a "transcendental moment for future generations" who will "remember that friendly countries took courageous decisions in favour of Israel and we do this because you have a special place in our hearts."

The US embassy move on Monday was accompanied by mass protests and clashes along the Gaza border that saw Israeli forces kill some 60 Palestinians.

Israel has faced international criticism over its use of live fire.

It says its actions are necessary to defend the border and stop mass infiltrations from the Palestinian enclave, which is run by Islamist movement Hamas.

On Monday, tens of thousands had gathered near the border while smaller numbers of stone-throwing Palestinians approached the fence and sought to break through, with Israeli snipers positioned on the other side.

Most of those killed were shot by Israeli snipers, the Gazan health ministry said, in the bloodiest day in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since a 2014 Gaza war.

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