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Nation & World

Israel, Palestinians spar over new Jerusalem embassies

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he speaks Wednesday during the dedication ceremony of the Guatemala Embassy in Jerusalem, Israel.
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he speaks Wednesday during the dedication ceremony of the Guatemala Embassy in Jerusalem, Israel.

JERUSALEM – Israel celebrated the opening of Guatemala’s new embassy in Jerusalem on Wednesday as the Palestinians, infuriated by the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to the contested city, recalled their ambassadors to four European countries that had supported the move.

Israel has been buoyed by the new Jerusalem missions, which have infuriated the Palestinians. The opening of the U.S. Embassy on Monday was met with mass protests on the Gaza border, where Israeli troops killed about
60 Palestinians, triggering a wave of international condemnation.

The Palestinians, who seek east Jerusalem as capital of their hoped-for state, vehemently oppose the U.S. Embassy’s relocation from Tel Aviv, seeing it as a one-sided move that invalidates the U.S. as a Mideast peace broker.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said ambassadors to Romania, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Austria were being called home for consultations after those countries sent envoys to a celebratory event held by Israel’s Foreign Ministry ahead of the U.S. Embassy opening.

The European Union objected to the embassy move, but the four European countries broke with EU policy to attend the celebration.

“We highly value our relations with all EU member states. Those relations are based on the commitment to international law, U.N. resolutions and human rights. Therefore we consider the participation in this event a contradiction to such values,” said Amal Jadou, a Palestinian Foreign Ministry official.

President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital late last year, upending decades of U.S. policy in a move that was welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but prompted the Palestinians to cut ties with the administration.

Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and later annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. Israel considers Jerusalem its undivided capital, but nearly all countries have opted to maintain embassies in Tel Aviv because of the holy city’s contested status.

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales dedicated the embassy just two days after a high-powered American delegation marked the transfer of the U.S. Embassy.

Netanyahu said it was fitting, noting that Guatemala also followed the U.S. to be the second country to recognize Israel 70 years ago.

“You were always among the first,” he said at the ceremony. “We remember our friends and Guatemala is our friend, then and now.”

The embassy move added fuel to weekly Palestinian protests in Gaza demanding the right of refugees to return to Israel and the lifting of a decade-old blockade.

The Israeli military has come under heavy international criticism for firing on unarmed protesters, and faces accusations of using disproportionate force.

Gaza protesters have hurled flaming tires, firebombs and stones toward Israeli troops, and tried to attack the border fence. Israel says Hamas militants have also tried to carry out bombing and shooting attacks under the cover of the protests.

Since the Hamas-led protests began on March 30, more than 110 Palestinians have been killed and more than 2,500 wounded by live fire, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. Palestinian officials say the vast majority of the casualties have been unarmed protesters. One Israeli soldier has been wounded.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel did everything it could to prevent civilian casualties but that Gaza’s Hamas rulers were to blame for using them as human shields.

“The Hamas leadership is a group of cannibals who treat their children as armament,” he said during a visit to a military base in southern Israel. “They have rocket armament, personal armament and another kind of armament – their children and women.”

On Tuesday, Israel’s military allowed eight trucks full of humanitarian aid and medical supplies to enter the Gaza Strip.

But the organizers of the Hamas-led border marches rejected two of the trucks, which had come from Israel, despite widespread shortages of key supplies. They said the Palestinians would not accept medicine “from the murderers of our people.”

The heavy death toll Monday, along with hundreds of wounded, made it by far the bloodiest day of cross-border violence since a devastating 2014 war between Israel and Hamas. It also triggered a diplomatic backlash against Israel.

The U.N. Security Council held a special session that began with a moment of silence for the Palestinians who were killed. In Geneva, the U.N. human rights office said Israel has repeatedly violated international norms by using deadly live fire to repel protesters.

Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador and consul general, and several European countries summoned Israeli ambassadors to their foreign ministries for questioning and called for an international investigation.

At the same time, Israel has found other nations following the U.S. lead and rallying to its defense. Besides Guatemala, Paraguay said it also will relocate its embassy to Jerusalem. Romania, the Czech Republic and Honduras have said they are considering doing the same.

At Wednesday’s ceremony, Morales said his country was bringing a message of “love, peace and fraternity” to Israel. The Guatemalan Congress recently passed a law marking May 14 as “Israel-Guatemala Friendship Day.”

Marking the move, the Jerusalem municipality illuminated the walls of the Old City late Tuesday with flags of Guatemala, Israel and the United States, and a message thanking Morales.

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