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Kosovo Formally Establishes Ties With Israel, To Open Embassy In Jerusalem

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A Kosovo government official takes a selfie during a ceremony held digitally in Pristina on February 1.

Kosovo and Israel have formally established diplomatic relations under a U.S.-brokered agreement that includes a pledge by the Muslim-majority Balkan country to open an embassy in Jerusalem.

Kosovar Foreign Minister Meliza Haradinaj-Stublla and her Israeli counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi, signed a joint declaration establishing ties on February 1 during a ceremony held online from both Jerusalem and Pristina due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The sides also inked two memoranda of understanding on diplomatic consultations and cooperation.

The documents were scanned and e-mailed during the ceremony, which included Ashkenazi unveiling a plaque to be placed at Kosovo's Embassy in Jerusalem once the facility is opened.

Haradinaj-Stublla noted that the establishment of diplomatic relations "would not have been possible without the blessing and strong commitment of the United States."

"Today Israel becomes the 117th state to recognize Kosovo as an independent and sovereign state. Our people have friendly relations and from today we start relations as two states," she said during the ceremony, which was attended by U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary Matthew Palmer.

Ashkenazi, who noted that it was the first time two nations had established relations over cyberspace, thanked the United States for its efforts "to promote peace around the world," calling the establishment of diplomatic relations between Kosovo and Israel "yet another important, exciting, and historic step."

The new administration of U.S. President Joe Biden applauded the Kosovo-Israel agreement as a "historic day.”

"When our partners are united, the United States is stronger. Deeper international ties help further peace and stability in the Balkans and Middle East," State Department spokesman Ned Price tweeted.

In September, former U.S. President Donald Trump gathered the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia at a White House summit meant to work toward long-stalled normalization of ties between the neighbors.

The summit was somewhat overshadowed by a White House announcement that Kosovo had agreed to recognize Israel.

At the meeting, Belgrade also agreed to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, something it hasn't yet done.

The Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in late 2017 and moved the U.S. embassy there in May 2018.

The decision prompted criticism from Palestinians, most Muslim-majority countries, and many states in Europe, concerned that it would undermine prospects for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Last year, Trump brokered a series of deals to establish diplomatic relations between Israel and Arab states, including Bahrain, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates.

However, the Arab parties to the accords have all maintained that their diplomatic missions in Israel will be in Tel Aviv.

Most Western countries have recognized Kosovo's independence, but Serbia and its allies Russia and China have not.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, nine years after NATO conducted a 78-day air campaign against Serbia to stop a bloody crackdown against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters
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