May 23, 2024

Colombian President Gustavo Petro, a staunch critic of Israel’s war in Gaza, says the Israeli government is ‘genocidal’.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro has announced plans to cut diplomatic ties with Israel over its war in the Gaza Strip, which human rights advocates and other experts have warned could amount to genocide.

Speaking to a crowd marking International Workers’ Day in Bogota on Wednesday, Petro said countries cannot be passive in the face of the crisis unfolding in Gaza.

“Here in front of you, the government of change, of the president of the republic, announces that tomorrow we will break diplomatic relations with the state of Israel … for having a government, for having a president who is genocidal,” Petro said.

A left-wing leader who came to power in 2022, Petro is considered part of a progressive wave known as the “pink tide” in Latin America. He has been one of the region’s most vocal critics of Israel since the start of the Gaza war.

In October, just days after the conflict began, Israel said it was “halting security exports” to Colombia after Petro accused Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant of using language similar to what the “Nazis said of the Jews”.

Gallant said the country was fighting “human animals” in Gaza, as he ordered a total siege of the territory following the deadly attacks on southern Israel on October 7.

A month later, Petro accused Israel of committing “genocide” in the besieged Palestinian enclave, drawing more ire from Israeli officials and pro-Israel advocacy groups.

And in February, Colombia suspended Israeli weapons purchases after Israeli forces opened fire on Palestinians scrambling for food aid in Gaza — an event Petro said “recalls the Holocaust”.

The Colombian president’s comments on Wednesday come amid growing concerns about a possible Israeli ground offensive into the southern city of Rafah, which United Nations chief Antonio Guterres said would mark an “unbearable escalation”.

More than 34,500 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip to date, and the enclave faces a continued humanitarian crisis, with experts warning of famine.

There was no immediate comment from the Israeli government about Colombia’s plans to cut diplomatic ties with the country.

Meanwhile, in early April, the Colombian government requested to join a case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) accusing Israel of genocide.

“Colombia’s ultimate goal in this endeavour is to ensure the urgent and fullest possible protection for Palestinians in Gaza, in particular such vulnerable populations as women, children, persons with disabilities and the elderly,” the country said.

The UN’s top court ruled in January that Palestinians faced a plausible risk of genocide in Gaza and ordered Israel to prevent any such acts.

UN Special Rapporteur Francesca Albanese also said in late March that there were “reasonable grounds to believe that the threshold indicating the commission of … acts of genocide against Palestinians in Gaza has been met”.

“The overwhelming nature and scale of Israel’s assault on Gaza and the destructive conditions of life it has inflicted reveal an intent to physically destroy Palestinians as a group,” Albanese said in a report.

Israel has denied accusations of genocide, calling Albanese’s report an “obscene inversion of reality”.

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