ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) — Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benitez on Thursday urged Israel to reconsider the closing of its embassy in Asuncion, calling it an “exaggerated” response to the South American country’s decision to move its embassy back to Tel Aviv.
The diplomatic dispute began in May when outgoing President Horacio Cartes authorized moving the Paraguayan Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as the United States and Guatemala had already done. The move pleased Israel and Washington but infuriated the Palestinians and their supporters.
Abdo Benitez, who won Paraguay’s election in April but had yet to take office when Cartes announced the move in one of his final acts as president, had said he would review the decision. On Wednesday, he said he would reverse it and move the embassy back to Tel Aviv, a decision applauded by Palestinian leaders.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately ordered the closure of the Israeli Embassy in Asuncion.
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“I regret Israel’s decision. The reaction of closing the embassy was a little exaggerated and we urge authorities to reconsider it,” Abdo Benitez said at a news conference in Itapua, 273 miles (440 kilometers) south of Asuncion.
He said Paraguay would “stick to international law and the United Nations’ resolution that still considers it a territory in conflict” between Israel and the Palestinians.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence spoke with Abdo Benitez on Wednesday and “strongly encouraged” the Paraguayan leader to follow through with its previous commitment to move the embassy to Jerusalem, according to a White House statement.
Cartes’ decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem had been criticized within Paraguay.
The Palestinians want Jerusalem’s eastern sector as the capital of their hoped-for state, while Israel sees the entire city as its eternal, undivided capital. Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war along with the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, territories the Palestinians want for their future state.
Most countries have maintained their embassies in Tel Aviv so as to not prejudge the outcome of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.