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Paraguay President Mario Abdo Benitez.(Photo by: ADRIANO MACHADO/ REUTERS)
Paraguay President Benitez 'regrets' Israel's decision to close embassy
By HADAS LABRISCH
09/07/2018
"I beseech Israel to reconsider," said Paraguay President Mario Abdo Benitez.
Paraguay President Mario Abdo Benitez reacted for the first time on Thursday night to the Israeli response after his country chose to relocate their embassy back from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, Ynet reported Friday morning.

"Closing the embassy in Asuncion is a somewhat excessive move," said Benitez.

In an announcement on Wednesday, Paraguay declared that it is going back on its earlier decision from May of 2018 to follow the US in relocating their embassy to Jerusalem.

Foreign Minister Luis Alberto Castiglioni explained the unusual move. "Paraguay wants to contribute to an intensification of regional diplomatic efforts to achieve a broad, fair and lasting peace in the Middle East,” said Castiglioni.

As a response, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Foreign Ministry to shut down the Israeli embassy in Paraguay and recall the Israeli ambassador.

“Israel views with extreme gravity the unusual decision by Paraguay that will cast a cloud over relations between the countries,” read a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

In a press conference Thursday night, Benitez commented on Netanyahu's statement.

"I regret Israel's decision. Closing the embassy in Asuncion is a somewhat excessive move and I beseech Israel to reconsider."

Many international figures congratulated Paraguay's decision and praised the country for supporting the Palestinian cause.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maleki commended his counterpart in Paraguay and immediately announced a Palestinian embassy opening in Asuncion.

Turkey joined the Palestinian Authority and declared Thursday night that it too shall open an embassy in Paraguay as an expression of solidarity.

In his own country, Benitez wasn't met with unanimous support. On Thursday, demonstrations were held in front of the presidential residence protesting the decision to relocate the embassy.

US Vice President Mike Pence spoke with Paraguay's president, Mario Abdo Benitez, on Thursday hoping to convince him to reconsider.

The Trump administration has been lobbying foreign governments to follow its lead after it announced last year that it would move the US embassy there. A temporary US embassy facility opened in Jerusalem in May.

Herb Keinon and Michael Wilner contributed to this report.
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