Middle East

Israel praises Guatemala for embassy move

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Israel has praised Guatemala for deciding to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales has drawn praise from Israeli officials for deciding to relocate the Central American country's embassy to Jerusalem, a move in step with US policy in a dispute over the city's status.

In a short post on his official Facebook account on Sunday, Morales said he had decided to move the embassy from Tel Aviv after talking to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on December 6, reversing decades of US policy and upsetting the Arab world and Western allies.

On Thursday, 128 countries defied Trump by backing a non-binding UN General Assembly resolution calling on the United States to drop its recognition of Jerusalem.

"I congratulate my friend (Morales) on his bold decision to move his country's embassy in Israel to Jerusalem," Israeli Parliamentary Speaker Yuli Edelstein wrote on Twitter. "Your decision proves that you and your country are true friends of Israel."

Guatemala and neighbouring Honduras were two of only a handful of countries to join Israel and the United States, which has pledged to move its embassy to Jerusalem, in voting against the UN resolution.

Israel's ambassador to Guatemala, Matty Cohen, said on Army Radio that no date had been set for the embassy move, "but it will happen after" the United States relocates its own embassy to Jerusalem. US officials have said that move could take at least two years.

The United States is an important source of assistance to Guatemala and Honduras, and Trump had threatened to cut off financial aid to countries that supported the UN resolution.

Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, writing on Twitter, thanked Morales for what she described as "his courageous decision". She said she was confident that other countries would follow his lead.

The status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest obstacles to an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they want to establish in the occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.

The international community does not recognise Israeli sovereignty over the entire city, home to sites holy to the Muslim, Jewish and Christian religions.

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