May 23, 2024

Colombian President Gustavo Petro said on Wednesday he plans to sever diplomatic ties with Israel over the Middle Eastern country’s conduct in its war against Hamas in Gaza.

Speaking at a May Day rally in Bogotá’s central Plaza de Bolívar, Petro panned Israel for “the girls, the boys, the babies who have died dismembered by the bombs.”

“Here before you, the government of change, the president of the republic, informs that tomorrow diplomatic relations with the State of Israel will be broken,” he said.

If Petro follows through with his threat, Colombia will join Belize and Bolivia as Western Hemisphere nations that have suspended or severed ties with Israel over the conflict in Gaza.

Cuba broke relations with Israel in 1973 after siding with Egypt in the Yom Kippur War, and Venezuela cut ties in 2009, in response to the 2008-2009 Gaza War between Israel and Hamas.

Petro’s threat to follow suit is a stark indicator of the shift in Colombia’s international postures under his government.

Colombia’s relations with Israel were previously so close that the South American country is the single largest overseas user of the Israeli made Kfir jet fighter.

But Petro, who assumed office in 2022, comes from a background of opposition to Colombia’s armed forces — as a teenager in the 1970s, he joined the leftist M-19 guerrilla group, a minor player in the country’s 50-year civil war.

In March, Petro first threatened to break relations with Israel with a post on X, which was met with an Israeli Foreign Ministry response saying Israel “will not give in to any pressures and threats,” according to a report by The Associated Press.

In his speech Wednesday, Petro said he took the measure against Israel “for having a government, for having a president, who is genocidal,” likely referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel does have a president, Isaac Herzog, but the prime minister is the official in charge of most government duties, including directing military operations.

Petro’s popularity has been on the rise over the past few months, with Colombians showing more tolerance toward his frequent public gaffes, such as misspelling the name of his own country as “Cokombia” on X in a now-deleted post.

In December, Petro’s approval ratings hit a low of 26 percent, but a February poll published by international newspaper El País showed him climbing to 35 percent approval.

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