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Russia has announced the opening of a consular office in West Jerusalem

Israel welcomed the decision, calling the move a diplomatic breakthrough, in line with efforts to increase the number of foreign missions in West Jerusalem.

The Russian embassy in Israel will open an office in West Jerusalem to serve as its consular department 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 an agreement on the plot of West Jerusalem land, which Russia bought in 1885, was signed on May 18 after a year-long process with the municipality.

As part of the deal, the property will be used to construct buildings used by the embassy’s consular section, the statement said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen welcomed the deal, which the ministry said was a diplomatic achievement in line with efforts to increase the number of foreign missions in Jerusalem.

Russia plans to build the complex in 5 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 Christian, Jewish and Muslim holy sites – is the biggest obstacle to reaching a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel, which captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed it, considers the city its eternal and indivisible capital. The Palestinian Authority (PA) insists that East Jerusalem – illegally occupied by Israel since 1967 – should serve as the capital of a Palestinian state.

The international community has largely not recognized Israeli sovereignty over the entire city, believing that the status of Jerusalem should be resolved through negotiations.

Although most foreign embassies are located in Tel Aviv, four were opened in Jerusalem after former US President Donald Trump announced US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017.

The US moved its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May of the following year.

At the time, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed serious concern and said that “such a move could nullify the prospects of the Middle East peace process”.

However, the Russian embassy statement on Friday said the opening of a branch office in Jerusalem was “in line with our country’s unchanged path towards a just Middle East settlement”.

The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority had no immediate comment on the Israel-Russia deal.

Israel’s relationship with Russia has been strained since Moscow invaded Ukraine in February last year.

About 15 percent of its population are immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

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