WASHINGTON: Guatemala will relocate its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem this May, two days after the United States shifts its mission, the Latin American country's president announced.
Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales told a cheering crowd on Sunday that "as a sovereign decision, we recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel."
Speaking at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), an influential pro-Israeli lobbying group, he said: "Under my instructions, two days after the United States moves its embassy, Guatemala will return and permanently move its embassy to Jerusalem.
"I would like to thank President Trump for leading the way."
Trump's decision in December to transfer the US embassy from Tel Aviv to the disputed city of Jerusalem has drawn widespread condemnation, with critics saying it damages hopes for a negotiated Middle East peace.
Morales nevertheless soon followed Trump, making Guatemala the first country to do so.
"This decision strongly evidences Guatemala's continued support and solidarity with the people of Israel," Morales told AIPAC.
"We are sure that many other countries will follow in our steps."
The Palestinian government condemned the Guatemalan move.
In a statement on the official Palestinian news agency WAFA, it called on Arab and Islamic nations “to take a firm stand against this move, which violates international law."
Only seven small countries -- including Guatemala and Honduras -- sided with the United States and Israel on a non-binding December 21 UN General Assembly resolution rejecting Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon praised Morales' announcement, tweeting: "Thank you Guatemala! Thank you President@jimmymoralesgt!
"The decision to move your embassy soon to #Jerusalem is courageous and visionary."
"We are happy to welcome you to our beloved eternal capital."
The White House plans to open its new facility in Jerusalem on May 14, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of Israel's creation.
Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, while the Palestinians see the eastern sector as the capital of their future state.
There had long been international consensus that the city's status should be settled as part of a two-state peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.