Photographs by AP/RONEN ZVULUN
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (third from left); his wife, Sara (beside him); and Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales (center) watch Wednesday as Morales’ wife Hilda Patricia Marroquin cuts the ribbon dedicating the Guatemalan Embassy in Jerusalem.
Originally published May 17, 2018 at 03:27a.m., updated May 17, 2018 at 03:27a.m.
JERUSALEM -- Israel on Wednesday welcomed another embassy in Jerusalem just two days after the landmark move by the United States, even as the diplomatic fallout over Gaza bloodshed intensified.
The ribbon cutting by Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales marked the first nation to join the United States in making the move to Jerusalem and formally recognizing the contested city as Israel's capital.
Similar to the U.S. Embassy inauguration, the Guatemalan event drew Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and prominent international supporters of Israel, including GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson and a smattering of evangelical leaders.
Although the Guatemalan affair was more low-key by comparison -- its new office barely big enough to host all the guests -- the move added another layer of tension amid diplomatic confrontations with a growing list of countries.
Leading the charge was Turkey, which on Tuesday expelled Israel's ambassador and consul. Israel retaliated with its own expulsions of top Turkish diplomats.
On Wednesday, the crisis between the two states appeared to be deepening. Israel's departing ambassador, Eitan Na'eh, received an uncustomary search at the Istanbul airport in an apparent attempt at public humiliation, including being forced to take off his shoes. Members of the Turkish media were invited to witness the event.
Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the Turkish diplomat hours later. And invited journalists.
In Europe, several EU nations summoned Israeli ambassadors to express concern over what many view as excessive force by Israeli troops against unarmed Palestinian civilians.
Israeli troops ended up killing nearly 60 people and wounding thousands during the protests along the Israel-Gaza border. Israel and the United States have claimed that the protests are engineered by Hamas, the militant Islamist group that rules the Gaza Strip. But Palestinians, who have dubbed the protests the "Great March of Return," say they want to return to lands taken when Israel was created 70 years ago.
Israel has said a significant number of those killed were members of various militant Islamist factions in the Gaza Strip, using the mass demonstrations as cover to infiltrate into Israel and carry out possible terrorist attacks.
On Monday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the killings in Gaza "a massacre" and blamed both Israel and the United States. On Tuesday, he recalled Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador in Washington.
More moves came Wednesday, with the Palestinian Authority calling back ambassadors in Romania, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Austria -- all EU members that have expressed an interest in opening embassies in Jerusalem.
Palestinians were upset that the ambassadors of those countries attended an event Sunday organized by Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs to honor the U.S. move to Jerusalem. Palestinians hope to gain part of Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
"Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem was not only a hostile act against the people of Palestine as we mourn 70 years of nakba, but is as well a violation of international law," said Amal Jadou, deputy minister for European Affairs in the Palestinian Foreign Ministry. Nakba, Arabic for catastrophe, is a term used for the flight and expulsion of an estimated 700,000 Palestinians upon Israel's creation.
None of the diplomatic fallout appeared to dampen the celebrations Wednesday at the new Guatemalan Embassy, however.
Speaking at the event, which did not have open media coverage, Netanyahu said it was not a coincidence that Guatemala was the second country to open its embassy in Jerusalem, after the United States.
"It's not a coincidence that Guatemala is opening its embassy in Jerusalem right among the first. You are always among the first, always among the first," he said, referring to Guatemala's role in lobbying for Israel's establishment in the 1940s.
Guatemalan lawmaker Marcos Fenando Yax said most people in his country believed this was the right thing to do. In Guatemala, a significant number of people are Catholic or evangelical. "They support this move by Morales," he said.
The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, he added, was a separate, internal issue.
In Gaza, meanwhile, Hamas said most of the protesters killed this week by Israeli fire along the border with the Gaza Strip were members of Hamas, an assertion that deepens the starkly different narratives on both sides over the deaths.
Israel appeared to latch on to the remarks to bolster its claims that Hamas has used the weekly border protests as cover to stage attacks.
But human-rights groups say the identities of slain protesters, including a possible affiliation to a militant group, are irrelevant if they were unarmed and did not pose an immediate threat to the lives of soldiers when they were shot.
In an interview with Baladna TV, a private Palestinian news outlet that broadcasts via Facebook, senior Hamas official Salah Bardawil said 50 out of the nearly 60 protesters killed Monday were Hamas members, with the others being "from the people."
Bardawil did not elaborate on the nature of their membership in the group, and his claim could not be independently verified. It was unclear if the protesters he was referring to were militants or civilian supporters of the group.
For Israel, it was enough to cement its narrative.
"It was clear to Israel and now it is clear to the whole world that there was no popular protest. This was an organized mob of terrorists organized by Hamas," said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon.
Information for this article was contributed by Ruth Eglash of The Washington Post and by Tia Goldenberg and Fares Akram of The Associated Press.
A Section on 05/17/2018
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