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Spain's far-right Vox leader sparks row with surprise Israel trip

Spain's far-right Vox leader faced criticism on Wednesday after unexpected discussions in Jerusalem with Israel's prime minister, where he condemned Madrid's recognition of a Palestinian state. The government accused him of "inciting conflict".

Published May 29,2024

Spain's far-right Vox leader came under fire Wednesday following surprise talks in Jerusalem with Israel's premier to denounce Madrid's recognition of Palestinian statehood, with the government accusing him of "fuelling war".

The unexpected trip was only publicised on Tuesday night when Santiago Abascal published photos on X of himself and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The meeting took place on the same day that Spain, Ireland and Norway recognised Palestinian statehood, sparking Israeli fury and hiking diplomatic tensions, notably with Madrid.

Since the Gaza war began on October 7 following Hamas' deadly attack on southern Israel, Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has been sharply critical of the spiralling Palestinian death toll.

Israel has also been angered by remarks by Sanchez's top ministers, including his far-left deputy, who said: "Palestine will be free from the river to the sea".

For Israel, the slogan -- which refers to the British mandate borders of Palestine between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean before Israel's 1948 creation -- was "a clear call for the elimination of Israel".

In a post on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Israel Katz attacked Sanchez over his deputy's remark and Palestinian statehood, saying he was party to "incitement to commit genocide and war crimes against the Jewish people".

In Spain, the far-right Vox and the right-wing opposition Popular Party (PP) have both slammed Sanchez for recognising Palestinian statehood.

According to Vox, Abascal hailed Israel's "firmness" in the Gaza war and told Netanyahu that the Spanish premier "was ready to do anything to cover up his own political and economic corruption".

Abascal said he told Netanyahu "the real reason" for the Palestinian statehood move was Sanchez trying to divert attention from a graft probe into his wife.

"I told the prime minister that the corruption investigation into Begona Gomez was the real reason Sanchez decided to recognise a Palestinian state," he wrote on X.

His post sparked a backlash with Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares accusing Abascal of inflaming the situation.

"Abascal is embracing the policy of falsehoods, slander and insults coming from the most extreme elements of Netanyahu's government," he told RTVE public television late Tuesday.

"While some people are fuelling wars, others are trying to find solutions for peace."

He also accused the PP of aligning itself with Vox, with Sanchez raising the same issue in parliament Wednesday.

"What do you think of the picture Abascal took yesterday with Netanyahu, encouraging him to continue the bombings in Gaza and in Rafah?" he asked PP leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo.

The Gaza war began with the October 7 Hamas attacks on southern Israel in which 1,189 people were killed, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Fighters also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,171 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the territory's health ministry.