Guatemala inaugurated its Israel embassy in Jerusalem on Wednesday, becoming the first country to follow in the footsteps of the United States’ 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 United States 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 favour of Israel and we do this because you have a special place in our hearts.”
– ‘To the fringes’ –
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.
Japan’s Hirohito ‘prevented from voicing remorse over war’
Japan's wartime emperor Hirohito wanted to express his regret and remorse shortly after World War II but the prime minister at the time stopped him, local media reported Tuesday, citing newly disclosed documents.
The 18 notebooks, written by Michiji Tajima, a top official at the Imperial Household Agency, featured dialogue between him and Hirohito between 1949 and 1953.
According to the documents, the emperor said in 1952: "No matter what, I really think I need to include the word remorse" in his planned speech to mark Japan's regaining of its independence later that year.
Hong Kong leader hopes peaceful rally presages ‘return to calm’
Hong Kong's embattled leader Carrie Lam on Tuesday said she hoped "calm" will prevail after a massive weekend march passed without clashes between police and demonstrators, but again refused to give ground to protester demands.
Hundreds of thousands of people marched through the heart of the city on Sunday in a show of peaceful protest after escalating street battles with police drew stark warnings from Beijing and threatened to undermine public support.
"On Sunday, many Hong Kong residents participated in a rally at Victoria Park that was largely peaceful," Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at a televised press conference.
US states ready antitrust probe of tech titans: report
Top prosecutors from a group of US states are readying a joint investigation into whether major technology firms have violated antitrust law, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.
The alliance of state attorneys general could formally announce next month that they are delving into whether leading internet firms and technology platforms have used their clout to thwart competition, the Journal reported, citing unnamed people familiar with the matter.
The US Department of Justice last month announced it is reviewing "whether and how market-leading online platforms have achieved market power and are engaging in practices that have reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers."