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Guatemala to move embassy to Jerusalem, backing Trump

Trump threatened to cut off aid to countries voting for UN resolution rejecting Jerusalem as capital of Israel
Jerusalem (AFP/file photo)
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Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales said on Sunday he had given instructions to move the Central American country's embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a few days after his government backed the United States in a row over the city's status.

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

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

The US is an important source of assistance to Guatemala, and Trump had threatened to cut off financial aid to countries that voted in favour of the UN resolution.

On 21 December, 128 countries defied Trump by backing a non-binding UN General Assembly resolution calling for the US to drop its recognition of Jerusalem.

Guatemala and neighbouring Honduras were two of only a handful of countries to join Israel and the US in voting against the UN resolution.

"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."

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 US relocates its own embassy to Jerusalem. US officials have said that move could take at least two years.

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.

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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.

Prior to 1980, Guatemala - along with Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, the Netherlands, Panama, Venezuela and Uruguay - maintained an embassy in Jerusalem.

Israel's passage in June 1980 of a law proclaiming Jerusalem its "indivisible and eternal capital" led to a UN Security Council resolution calling upon those countries to move their embassies to Tel Aviv, prompting their transfer.