Guatemala opens Israel embassy in Jerusalem after US move

From left: Sara and her husband Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin and Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales and his wife Hilda Patricia Marroquin cut the ribbon during the inauguration ceremony of the Guatemalan embassy in Jerusalem on Wednesday, May 16. (AFP)
Updated 16 May 2018
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Guatemala opens Israel embassy in Jerusalem after US move

JERUSALEM: Guatemala inaugurated its Israel embassy in Jerusalem on Wednesday, becoming the first country to follow in the footsteps of the US’ deeply controversial move that was accompanied by deadly violence on the Gaza border.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales were among officials who attended a ceremony inaugurating the new embassy at an office park in the disputed city, which is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The US and Guatemalan moves break with decades of international consensus. US ambassador to Israel David Friedman also attended Wednesday’s ceremony.
So far, the only other nation with immediate plans to open an Israel embassy in Jerusalem is Paraguay, expected to do so before the end of the month.
Netanyahu profusely praised Guatemala for making the move and noted it came only two days after the US opened its embassy in Jerusalem.
The Israeli premier spoke of Guatemala’s early recognition of the state of Israel after its creation in 1948 and said he would visit the country of 16 million on his next visit to Latin America.
“I look forward to assessing with you the practical ways... that we can advance this friendship and this alliance,” Netanyahu said.
“But today, I just want to say how delighted we are to have you.”
Morales called it a “transcendental moment for future generations” who will “remember that friendly countries took courageous decisions in favor of Israel and we do this because you have a special place in our hearts.”
The US embassy move on Monday was accompanied by mass protests and clashes along the Gaza border that saw Israeli forces kill some 60 Palestinians.
Israel has faced international criticism over its use of live fire against demonstrators.
It says its actions are necessary to defend the border and stop mass infiltrations from the Palestinian enclave, which is run by Islamist movement Hamas.
On Monday, tens of thousands had gathered near the border while smaller numbers of stone-throwing Palestinians approached the fence and sought to break through, with Israeli snipers positioned on the other side.
Most of those killed were shot by Israeli snipers, the Gazan health ministry said, in the bloodiest day in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since a 2014 Gaza war.
Israel’s army said “it appears that at least 24” of those killed were militants, mainly from Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
It said explosive devices and firebombs were used, while Israeli soldiers were also shot at.
But there were numerous calls for an independent investigation into the deaths, with Britain, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium among those supporting such action.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the European Union have previously called for an independent probe, with 116 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces since a campaign of protests on the Gaza-Israel border was launched on March 30.
Morales’s decision to move Guatemala’s embassy has been seen as partly influenced by his evangelical religious beliefs.
Evangelicals want to see Jews rebuild their temple in Jerusalem, which according to their beliefs would facilitate the second coming of Christ.
The move is also seen by some as a gesture to elicit US support at a time when Morales stands accused by Guatemalan prosecutors of accepting illegal campaign contributions.
Former Guatemalan foreign minister Gabriel Orellana has said Morales’s embassy move has the effect of banishing his country “to the fringes of the United Nations.”
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 recognized by the international community.


EU-Arab summit set for February 24-25 in Egypt

Updated 19 October 2018
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EU-Arab summit set for February 24-25 in Egypt

BRUSSELS: European Union and Arab leaders will meet in Egypt in late February for their first summit as part of efforts to forge a new European-African alliance and fight migrant smuggling, officials said Thursday.
European leaders first mentioned the summit in Austria last month as they vowed to intensify talks with Egypt and other North African countries to curb illegal migration.
“The European Council welcomes the holding of the forthcoming first summit between the 28 EU Member States and the League of Arab States, hosted by Egypt on 24-25 February 2019,” the council of EU leaders said after a summit in Brussels.
The Cairo-based Arab League includes North African countries Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco as well as those in the Middle East and Gulf.
EU officials insisted the summit was about more than just migration, but part of a broader push to build closer ties with Africa outlined by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in September.
“It is now much more than about migration and fighting traffickers,” an EU official told reporters.
Juncker urged the EU to strike a “new alliance” with Africa that would create millions of jobs and include a free trade deal.
The Commission, the executive arm of the 28-nation EU, hopes the strategy will both showcase its international influence and help stem the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean.
The EU also wants to boost development in sub-Saharan Africa to ease the poverty that often drives migration.
Brussels has previously struck cooperation deals with both Turkey and Libya, whose coast guard officers are trained by the Europeans to stop migrant sea crossings — despite concerns about conditions in Libyan detention centers.
The deals with the two gateway countries have helped to cut migration to Europe sharply since a 2015 peak, but the bloc wants to expand work with all north African countries.
The leaders called for “strengthening cooperation with countries of origin and transit, particularly in North Africa,” according to the summit’s published conclusions.
“Work with third countries on investigating, apprehending and prosecuting smugglers and traffickers should be intensified,” it said.
EU officials say Egypt has set a high bar in fighting traffickers and smugglers, which could be emulated by other North African countries.
The EU is increasingly focused on bolstering its external borders amid longstanding divisions over redistributing asylum-seekers who make it to Italian and other European shores.
But it is still confronted with the refusal of Hungary and other former communist eastern countries to admit migrants, particularly from Muslim countries.
And Italy’s populist government has this year turned away migrant rescue ships in a bid to force fellow EU countries to share responsibility for them.
The United Nations refugee and migration agencies, the UNHCR and IOM, had this week urged EU leaders to take steps to ensure responsiblities are shared.
They said the debate was so “dangerously toxic” in some countries that it was harder to find common solutions.
Even though fewer people were arriving in Europe, the two agencies said, the rate of people dying in the Mediterranean was increasing. More than 1,700 lives have been lost since January.