Saturday 21 September 2019

Guatemala moves Israeli embassy to Jerusalem as furore over killings continues

Israel has come under heavy international criticism after its forces killed dozens of Palestinian protesters along the border.

Palestinian protesters burn tires during a protest at the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel, east of Khan Younis (AP)
Palestinian protesters burn tires during a protest at the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel, east of Khan Younis (AP)

By Aron Heller

Guatemala has opened its new embassy in Jerusalem, becoming the second country to do so after the United States, as international condemnation continued over the killing of dozens of Palestinian protesters by Israeli forces.

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.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu said it was fitting since Guatemala also followed the US to be the second country to recognise Israel 70 years ago.

Palestinian protesters run for cover from teargas fired by Israeli troops (AP)

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

US president Donald Trump announced his decision in December to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the American embassy there, triggering a joyous reaction from Mr Netanyahu’s government.

Israel has always claimed Jerusalem as its capital yet most countries opted to place their embassies in coastal Tel Aviv because of the holy city’s contested status.

Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed it in a move not recognised 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 US as a peace broker in the region.

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.

Hundreds march through the streets of Chicago to protest against the US embassy in Israel moving from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (AP)

They culminated in the killing of nearly 60 Palestinians by Israeli forces in clashes along the border.

Israeli defence 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.”

Since the Hamas-led protests began on March 30, more than 110 Palestinians have been killed and some 2,500 have been wounded by live fire, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

Palestinian officials say the vast majority of the casualties have been unarmed protesters.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he speaks during the dedication ceremony of the Guatemala Embassy in Jerusalem (AP)

The heavy death toll on 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 UN Security Council held a special session that began with a moment of silence for the Palestinians who were killed. In Geneva, the UN 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 the Israeli ambassadors to their foreign ministries for questioning and called for an international investigation.

The diplomatic spat with Turkey intensified after what Israel called the humiliating treatment of its ambassador, who was subjected to a severe security screening upon his departure from the airport in Istanbul.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan dramatically ratcheted up his rhetoric this week over Gaza and the US embassy move. Mr Netanyahu retorted that a “man whose hands are drenched in the blood of countless Kurdish civilians in Turkey and Syria is the last one who can preach to us about military ethics”.

PA Media

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