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ARGENTINA | 06-02-2024 11:51

President Javier Milei announces plan to move Argentina's Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem

Upon his arrival in Israel, President Javier Milei immediately announced that he plans to move the embassy to Jerusalem; Hamas "strongly condemns" libertarian leader's announcement.

Upon his arrival in Israel Tuesday morning, President Javier Milei immediately announced that his government plans to relocate Argentina's Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

"My plan is to move the embassy to West Jerusalem," the libertarian head of state told Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz on the tarmac of the airport near Tel Aviv.

The 53-year-old economist, who upended traditional politics to win election last year, was greeted warmly off his plane by Katz at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv.

Confirmation of the widely expected announcement found favour with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose office said he "warmly welcomes" the move.

The territorial dispute over Jerusalem, which houses some of the holiest sites in Christianity, Islam and Judaism, is at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

"The prime minister spoke about this with President Milei after his election, and welcomes the fact that the president has kept his promise," a statement read.

Extreme-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said it was recognition of Jerusalem as "our eternal capital."

After his arrival, Milei headed to the Western Wall in east Jerusalem – the holiest place where Jews can pray – where he received an enthusiastic welcome by crowds.

Milei looked visibly moved, with reddened eyes, as he approached the wall and spent several minutes with his forehead touching the stones, his arms outstretched.

The president's trip will also see him visit a kibbutz and meet families of hostages taken by Hamas in its October 7 attack on southern Israel.

Milei is expected to hold a bilateral meeting with President Isaac Herzog at 1pm (Buenos Aires time) Tuesday.

 

Hamas condemns move

Palestinian militant group Hamas said it "strongly condemns" Milei's announcement.

Hamas said it viewed the move "an infringement of the rights of our Palestinian people to their land, and a violation of the rules of international law, considering Jerusalem as occupied Palestinian land."

Argentina would become one of only a handful of countries to have its main diplomatic mission in Jerusalem, rather than Tel Aviv.

The United States made the move in 2018 under the presidency of Donald Trump after he recognised the city as Israel's capital.

The United Nations in 1947 envisaged a special international status for Jerusalem given its importance for Jews, Christians and Muslims.

But the city was left divided after the war that followed Israel's declaration of independence in 1948. 

Israel seized east Jerusalem from Jordan during the Six-Day War of June 1967, and later annexed it, and regards the entire city as its indivisible capital.

Jerusalem has been under Israeli authority ever since but Palestinians claim the eastern part as the capital for their hoped-for future state.

 

Personal journey

Milei's decision to visit Israel in his first overseas tour underscores is government’s willingness to bring Argentina closer to Israel as he embarks on a personal journey toward Judaism.

The self-described "anarcho-capitalist" was raised in a Catholic family but has studied Jewish scripture.

After his election win in November, he visited the tomb of a revered rabbi in New York – a popular spiritual destination for some Jews.

Argentina's Jewish community is 250,000 strong and one of the largest in Latin America.

Milei’s clear pro-Israel stance, which includes plans to label Hamas a terrorist organisation, puts Argentina at odds with other Latin American countries, many of whom have criticised Netanyahu’s strategy to eradicate the group from Gaza.

From Israel, Milei heads to Rome on Friday for a meeting with Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, and a private audience with Pope Francis.

A once-fierce critic of the Argentine pontiff, Milei has toned down his rhetoric since taking office.

 

– TIMES/AFP

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