Paraguay president inaugurates Israel embassy in Jerusalem

Jerusalem (AFP) –


Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes inaugurated his country's Israel embassy in Jerusalem on Monday, making it the third nation to take the deeply controversial step after the United States and Guatemala.

Cartes and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at the inauguration of the new embassy in a high-tech industrial park in southwest Jerusalem.

The Paraguayan leader called it a "historic event".

"This act has profound significance in the sense that it expresses Paraguay's sincere friendship and full solidarity with Israel," he said.

Netanyahu said cooperation between the two countries would become "greater", naming areas such as agriculture, security and technology.

"You have not only the support of our government but the profound gratitude of the people of Israel," Netanyahu said. "We remember our friends."

Paraguay already supplies some 40 percent of beef consumed in Israel, while Cartes has Israeli bodyguards.

The South American nation of some seven million people follows in the footsteps of the United States, which broke with decades of international consensus when President Donald Trump declared Jerusalem Israel's capital in December.

Washington followed up on the declaration by moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 14, the day that also marked the 70th anniversary of the creation of the state of Israel.

The Palestinian leadership has frozen ties with the White House over the moves.

The US embassy opening was accompanied by mass protests and clashes along the Gaza border that saw 62 Palestinians killed by Israeli gunfire.

No Israelis were killed, and there have been international calls for an independent investigation into the deaths.

Israel has rejected such calls, saying its actions are necessary to protect its border and stop Islamist movement Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, from using the protests as cover to carry out violence.

Israel has sought to persuade other countries to follow the White House and move their embassies to Jerusalem from the Tel Aviv area, but so far only Paraguay and Guatemala have done so.

Guatemala opened its new embassy in the same Jerusalem office park as Paraguay's on May 16.

Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, harshly criticised Paraguay's decision, saying "moving an embassy to Jerusalem is a widely rejected step".

"We have witnessed today how the Paraguayan president is an irresponsible political leader by defying international law and the achievement of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East," he said in a statement.

Jerusalem's status is perhaps the thorniest issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel considers the entire city its capital, while the Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

Israel occupied the West Bank and east Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed east Jerusalem in a move never recognised by the international community.