Kirchner has written to Abbas, expressing Argentina's support for an independent Palestinian state [GALLO/GETTY]

Argentina has recognised Palestine as a "free and independent state," just days after neighbouring Brazil announced that it would "legitimate aspiration of the Palestinian people for a secure, united, democratic and economically viable state co-existing peacefully with Israel".

Hector Timerman, Argentina's foreign minister, said on Monday that the Latin American nation officially recognised Palestine according to its 1967 borders and hopes for peaceful solution to Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

"Argentina has traditionally recognised the right of the Palestinian people to create an independent state just like the Israeli state, to live together in peace with their neighbours with secure and internationally recognised borders," Timerman said.

"With this objective, our country has always supported the international community's initiatives to reach a fair, peaceful and definitive solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict."

He said that Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the president, had written to Mahmoud Abbas, her Palestinian counterpart, to express her support.

'Regrettable decision'

Echoing its comments in response to Brazil's announcement on Friday, Israel immediately called the decision by Buenos Aires "regrettable".

"With this objective, our country has always supported the international community's initiatives to reach a fair, peaceful and definitive solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict," Yigal Palmor, the Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, said.

"If Argentina had wanted to make a real contribution to peace, there are other ways of doing that other than by a purely rhetorical gesture."

US-brokered direct talks between the Israelis and Palestinians have been stalled over Israel's refusal to halt settlement building in the occupied West Bank. 

'Joy and enthusiasm'

The Palestinian ambassador in Buenos Aires reacted with "joy and enthusiasm" to Argentina's announcement and said he expected other Latin American countries to follow suit.

Uruguay also announced on Monday that it would recognise a Palestinian state next  year.

"Uruguay will surely follow the same path as Argentina in 2011," Roberto Conde, Uruguay's deputy foreign minister, told the AFP news agency.

"We are working towards opening a diplomatic representation in Palestine, most likely in Ramallah," he said.

The three Latin American governments are responding to Abbas' efforts to win UN recognition of a Palestinian state. The Palestinian leadership have said that they will seek unilateral recognition of Palestine if the talks fail.

Timerman said the recognition reflected a general consensus among members of Mercosur, the South American trade bloc.

Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay all make up Mercosur. Venezuela's membership is pending.

Argentina was making the move based on its "deep desire to see a definitive advance in the negotiation process leading to the establishment of a just and durable peace in the Middle East," Timerman said.

Source: Agencies