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Kosovo opens Israeli embassy in Occupied Jerusalem

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM, Palestine: Kosovo has formally opened its embassy to Israel in the Occupied Jerusalem, becoming the first European country to establish an embassy in the occupied city whose status is at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A foreign ministry statement on Sunday said the move was made after the establishment of diplomatic ties with Israel on February 1 and a Kosovo-Serbia summit held at the White House in September.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Diaspora announces that the Kosovo Embassy in the State of Israel, with headquarters in Jerusalem, officially has been opened,” the statement said.

Kosovo follows the United States and Guatemala in establishing its embassy in Jerusalem.

Kosovo’s decision was taken when outgoing Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti met Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic at the White House in September with then-President Donald Trump.

“Setting of the plaques and the state flag at the Kosovo Embassy in Israel reflects the Government of Kosovo’s commitment to comply with the pledge for establishing the diplomatic mission to Jerusalem,” it said.

Ines Demiri, Kosovo’s Charge d’Affaires to Israel, called it a “truly proud and historic moment”.

“The greatest honour of my life is to have this opportunity to open the embassy and proudly serve my country in Israel,” Demiri wrote on Twitter.

Palestinians claim occupied East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 war, as the capital of a future state.

Most of the international community does not recognise the Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem and says the competing claims to the city should be resolved through negotiations. Most international embassies are in Tel Aviv.

Serbia has refused to acknowledge the independence of its former province, so while Kosovo has now been recognised by much of the Western world, its rejection by Belgrade’s key allies Russia and China has locked it out of the United Nations.

Israel had been another key holdout until last month when it established diplomatic ties with Kosovo.

In exchange, Kosovo followed by recognising the Occupied Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s capital.

Albin Kurti, prime minister-designate, has found himself in a difficult diplomatic position ahead of taking up his post after pressure from Turkey, a close ally of the new Western Balkan country, to change its mind about the Jerusalem location.

Kurti has said: “The place where the embassy will be located is to be considered following checking of the documentation of the outgoing government.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned Kosovo that the move could damage future relations with his country.

In one of Europe’s most intractable disputes, Serbia has rejected Kosovo’s independence since it broke away in a 1998-1999 war that was ended only by a NATO bombing campaign against Serb troops.

Kosovo and Serbia face mounting pressure from the West to resolve the impasse, seen as crucial to either side joining the European Union.

PA, Arab League condemn opening of Czech office in Occupied Jerusalem

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Arab League have condemned the Czech Republic’s opening of a diplomatic office in Occupied Jerusalem as a violation of international law.

Prague opened a Jerusalem branch of its Israel embassy, which is located in Tel Aviv, on Thursday.

The inauguration was attended by Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, two weeks after Israel sent 5,000 Moderna Covid-19 vaccine doses to the Czech Republic under a “vaccine diplomacy” programme that later came under legal scrutiny and was frozen.

The Palestinian foreign ministry on Saturday called Prague’s move “a blatant attack on the Palestinian people and their rights, a flagrant violation of international law”, and said it would harm peace prospects.

In Cairo, Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in a statement: “The legal status of Jerusalem will be affected by the decision of one country or another to open representative offices. East Jerusalem is an occupied land under International law.”

Stressing that the Jerusalem office was not an embassy, the Czech Foreign Ministry said it was meant to strengthen Prague’s strategic partnership with Israel and improve services for Czech citizens there.

“The establishment of the office has no impact on the will of the Czech Republic to further develop political and economic relations with the Palestinian Authority,” it said.

Occupied Jerusalem remains at the heart of the decades-long Middle East conflict, with the PA insisting East Jerusalem – illegally occupied by Israel since 1967 – should serve as the capital of a Palestinian state.

Speaking beside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, Babis said Prague was a “strategic partner” of Israel, recalling how after 1948 Czechoslovakia helped it maintain its new-found independence by sending deliveries of fighter planes.

At the inauguration ceremony, Babis said it “represents another milestone in our cooperation, it gives evidence that we see the importance of this great city”.

Only two countries have full embassies in the Occupied Jerusalem: The United States – after former US President Donald Trump broke with decades of US policy to recognise the Occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – and Guatemala.

The Czech Republic is one of Israel’s strongest supporters in the European Union.

Although it formally supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it was named in an International Criminal Court pre-trial decision last month as one of the countries supporting Israel’s argument that the court should not investigate war crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Babis said on Thursday his country regarded the ICC’s decision to proceed with an investigation as “unfortunate,” adding: “Though we respect the independence of the court, the Czech Republic doesn’t consider Palestine to be a state, therefore the court has no jurisdiction over it.”

Last month, Israel and Kosovo established diplomatic ties, with the Muslim-majority country recognising the Occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

At the time, Israel’s foreign minister said he had approved Kosovo’s “formal request to open an embassy in Jerusalem”.

Kosovo also said it was ready to set up its Israel mission in Jerusalem, in exchange for Israel’s recognition, as it seeks to further legitimise its 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia and statehood.

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