Russia’s embassy in Israel will open offices in West Jerusalem to serve its consular section as part of an agreement with the city, according to the embassy and Israel’s foreign ministry.
The Russian embassy in Israel said in a statement that a deal over a West Jerusalem land plot, which Russia bought in 1885, was signed with the municipality on May 18, following a years-long process.
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As part of the agreement, the property will be used to construct buildings to be used by the consular section of the embassy, the statement said.
Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen welcomed the agreement, which the ministry said was a diplomatic achievement in line with its efforts to increase the number of foreign missions in Jerusalem.
Russia planned to build the complex within five to 10 years, said Ambassador to Israel Anatoly Viktorov, who added that the deal “takes into account the interests of both our states”.
The status of Jerusalem – home to sites holy to Christians, Jews and Muslims – is one the biggest obstacles to reaching a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
Israel, which occupied East Jerusalem in a 1967 Middle East war and later annexed it, has considered the city its eternal and indivisible capital. Palestinian Authority (PA) insisting that East Jerusalem – illegally occupied by Israel since 1967 – should serve as the capital of a Palestinian state.
The international community has mostly not recognised Israeli sovereignty over the entire city, believing Jerusalem’s status should be resolved in negotiations.
While most foreign embassies are located in Tel Aviv, four opened in Jerusalem after former US President Donald Trump announced the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017.
The US moved its embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May the following year.
At the time, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed serious concern and said “such steps can cancel out prospects for a Middle East peace process”.
However, the Russian embassy’s statement on Friday said the opening of a branch office in Jerusalem “goes in line with our country’s unchanging course towards a fair Middle East settlement”.
The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority did not immediately comment on the Israel-Russia deal.
Israel’s ties with Russia have remained tense since Moscow invaded Ukraine in February last year.
Some 15 percent of its population are immigrants from the former Soviet Union.