JERUSALEM: Guatemala festively opened its new embassy in Jerusalem on Wednesday, becoming the second country to do so after the United States.
Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales dedicated the embassy just two days after a high-powered American delegation also marked the transfer of its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was fitting since 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.”
President Trump announced his decision on Jerusalem in December, triggering a joyous reaction from Netanyahu’s government.
Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, and view the relocation of the embassy as a one-sided move that invalidates the U.S. as a Mideast peace broker.
The embassy move added fuel to the weekly Palestinian protests in Gaza demanding the right of return to Israel and the lifting of a decade-old naval blockade.
They culminated Monday when Israel killed nearly 60 Palestinians in clashes along the border.
The Gaza protesters set tires ablaze, sending up thick plumes of black smoke, and hurled firebombs and stones toward Israeli troops across the border. The Israeli military, which has come under international criticism for firing on unarmed protesters, said Hamas militants tried to carry out bombing and shooting attacks under the cover of the protests and released video of protesters ripping away parts of the barbed-wire border fence.
The heavy Palestinian death toll, 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. Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador and consul general and several European countries summoned the 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 says it will also relocate its embassy to Jerusalem and 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 walls late Tuesday with flags of Guatemala, Israel and the United States and a message thanking Morales.
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