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Kosovo to establish diplomatic relations with Israel on 1 February

Move may pave way to becoming first Muslim-majority country to open an embassy in Jerusalem
Kosovo's Minister of Foreign Relations Meliza Haradinaj Stubla described the move as "historic" (Screengrab)

Kosovo and Israel will formally establish diplomatic relations via a virtual ceremony on Monday, according to Kosovo's Minister of Foreign Relations Meliza Haradinaj Stubla.

Speaking via Facebook on Friday, Stubla said the decision to recognise Israel was historic and came from a "long friendship between our peoples".

"Recognition by Israel is one of the greatest achievements for Kosovo, coming at a key moment for us, thanks to the United States of America," Stubla said. 

"Very soon, we will finalise the diplomatic relations between our states."

Stubla said she and her Israeli counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi, would hold a virtual ceremony on 1 February to declare the move.

US-brokered deal

Kosovo, a Muslim-majority country, agreed in September to recognise Israel as part of a US-brokered accord hailed by then president Donald Trump as "a major breakthrough".

The deal also included a pledge by Kosovo to normalise economic ties with erstwhile rival and neighbour Serbia, while the latter vowed to move its embassy to Jerusalem.

Washington recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital in late 2017 and moved the US embassy there in May 2018, a move that was criticised by the Palestinians and much of the international community.

Muslim-majority Kosovo agrees to normalise ties with Israel
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Israel considers all of Jerusalem as its undivided capital, while the Palestinians see the eastern part of the city as the capital of their future state.

Stubla, whose announcement came in the same week as International Holocaust Memorial Day, also spoke of when persecuted Jews were given shelter by Albanians in the area during World War Two. 

"As generous people and people of faith, we were with the Israeli people in their darkest period of history," said Stubla.

"As they were with our people during the most difficult and vital moments for us when they opened the doors to Kosovan refugees and supported the cause of Kosovo for freedom."

Ethnic Albanian-majority Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 after a Nato-led bombing campaign to curtail ethnic warfare.

Pristina could become the first Muslim-majority country to open its embassy in Jerusalem. 

Israel has yet to recognise Kosovo's independence. However, according to Haaretz, "Israel has been in talks in recent years with Kosovo about opening an office for economic interests in Tel Aviv to advance investment and trade with the Balkan state."

Serbia, backed by its large Slavic and Orthodox Christian ally Russia, does not recognise Kosovo's independence, a precondition for Serbia's future membership in the European Union.