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US to Move Embassy to Jerusalem in May

Pedestrians are seen near the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel, Dec. 6, 2017.

The United States says it will open a new embassy in Jerusalem in May to coincide with Israel's 70th anniversary.

The State Department said Friday that the new embassy would be located in a building that currently houses the U.S. consular operations in Jerusalem, before moving to a separate annex by the end of 2019.

The move followed a December announcement by U.S. President Donald Trump that the United States recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital and planned to move the U.S. Embassy there.

The embassy has been located in Tel Aviv.

The choice of the date, which is a year earlier than originally forecast, sparked an angry response from the Palestinians, who said the founding of Israel on May 14, 1948, is mourned by Palestinians as the Nakba, or "catastrophe."

"The American administration [decision] to choose the date of the Palestinian catastrophe — the Nakba — on which to move the embassy, and to take this move in this expeditious fashion, reflects their total insensitivities to what goes on in this region," said chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.

Palestinians claim the eastern part of Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

Israeli intelligence minister Israel Katz quickly welcomed the opening date.

"There is no greater gift than that! The most just and correct move. Thanks friend!" he wrote on his Twitter account.

U.S. officials said most embassy employees would remain in Tel Aviv until the building in Jerusalem can be expanded. They said U.S. Ambassador David Friedman, who lobbied Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, along with one or two of his aides, would be the first to move to the new embassy.

The State Department said the next phase of the plan would be to search for a secure location to build a new embassy in Jerusalem, which it said would be "a longer-term undertaking."

The embassy move comes earlier than expected. Just last month, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence told the Israeli parliament the move would take place by the end of 2019.

President Donald Trump delivers remarks to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Feb. 23, 2018, in Oxon Hill, Md.
President Donald Trump delivers remarks to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Feb. 23, 2018, in Oxon Hill, Md.

In a speech on Friday to a gathering of conservatives outside Washington, Trump said of his decision to move the embassy, "It's the right thing to do."

No other country has recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Trump's decision has sparked anger from Washington's Arab allies and led to weeks of violent protests by Palestinians.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in a speech at the United Nations this week, called moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem "unlawful."