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Sealed with a kiss: Netanyahu praises new US envoy's Western Wall visit amid row

David Friedman, the new American ambassador to Israel, kisses the Western Wall in Jerusalem on May 15, 2017
Menahem KAHANA (AFP)
Friedman said Trump had given him 'unequivocal mandate to support Israel in every way'

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday praised US Ambassador David Friedman for visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem upon his arrival in the country, calling it a "powerful gesture of solidarity" amid a very public and bitter row over the White House's approach to the ultra-sensitive status of the city.

"It’s a pleasure to welcome you to our eternal capital, Jerusalem" Netanyahu said, greeting Friedman hours after the Ambassador officially assumed his role.

"I know that you visited the Western Wall. We deeply appreciate that. It was a powerful gesture of solidarity," Netanyahu said.

"I wouldn’t have gone anywhere else," Friedman said of his visit to the holy site.

Netanyahu and Friedman met for 90 minutes and discussed both regional issues and diplomatic opportunities, a senior Israeli official said.

Just hours after the Ambassador's visit to the Western Wall on Monday, a report by Israel's Channel 2 news detailed a bitter exchange between US and Israeli delegations preparing for Trump's May 22-23 visit, during which one American official reportedly said the Western Wall was part of the West Bank.

The White House distanced itself from the alleged comments, saying in statements to US media that they did not reflect the views of the president.

Channel 2 on Tuesday named the official who made the incendiary remark as David Berns, the political counselor at the US Consulate in Jerusalem. A second official the consulate’s economic counselor Jonathan Shrier, was also involved in the incident, the TV report said.

It had been the second clash of the day on Monday regarding the Trump administration's policy towards Jerusalem, after debate once again flared over whether the US should move its Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Netanyahu issued an angry rebuttal following a report that he advised Trump against the embassy's relocation, taking the unusual step of publishing minutes of a meeting he had with Trump in Washington in February, showing that he had pressed the new president to move the embassy.

Netanyahu said that "not only would moving the embassy not harm the peace process, but to the contrary.

"It would advance it by fixing a historic wrong and shatter the Palestinian illusion that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel."

Menahem KAHANA (AFP)

During his meeting with Friedman on Tuesday, Netanyahu again reiterated his position that the US embassy and all other foreign embassies should be moved to Jerusalem, an Israeli official said.

Friedman said Trump had given him "the unequivocal and unambiguous mandate to support the state of Israel in every way and in all ways".

"His love for and commitment to the state of Israel is rock solid and it enjoys his highest priority."

Rivlin called on the "whole world to recognize Jerusalem as the official capital of the state of Israel".

Israel annexed east Jerusalem in 1967 and claims the entire city as its undivided capital. The Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

The rival claims to Jerusalem lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and no countries currently have their embassies there, instead basing them in Israel's commercial capital Tel Aviv.

See also:

- Netanyahu affirms stance on US embassy move ahead of Trump visit

- Trump to back Palestinian 'self-determination' during Israel visit

(Staff with agencies)

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