May 26, 2024

Colombia’s president has announced that his government will sever diplomatic relations with Israel, in the latest escalation of a furious row between the countries over the war in Gaza.

Addressing a May Day rally in Bogotá on Wednesday, Gustavo Petro again described Israel’s siege of Gaza as “genocide”.

“Tomorrow, diplomatic relations with the state of Israel will be broken … for having a genocidal president,” Petro said, adding: “If Palestine dies, humanity dies, and we are not going to let it die.”

Israel’s foreign minister, Israel Katz, quickly rebuked the Colombia leader’s comments, saying: “History will remember that Gustavo Petro decided to side with the most despicable monsters known to mankind who burned babies, murdered children, raped women and kidnapped innocent civilians.”

Shortly after the 7 October Hamas attack on southern Israel that killed about 1,200 people and sparked the current war in Gaza, Petro denounced what he called “neo-Nazi” efforts to destroy the Palestinian people, freedom and culture.

Related: Israel and Colombia in ferocious diplomatic spat over Hamas war

The World Jewish Congress accused him of completely ignoring the hundreds of Israeli civilian victims and called Petro’s statement “an insult to the 6 million victims of the Holocaust and to the Jewish people”.

Israel accused Petro of “expressing support for the atrocities committed by Hamas terrorists, fueling antisemitism”, and summoned Colombia’s ambassador.

Israel, one of the main providers of arms to Colombia’s military, then said it was “halting security exports” to the South American country as the feud escalated.

Historically, Colombia had been one of Israel’s closest partners in Latin America. But relations between the two nations have cooled since Petro was elected as Colombia’s first leftist president in 2022.

Colombia uses Israeli-built warplanes and machine guns to fight drug cartels and rebel groups, and both countries signed a free trade agreement in 2020.

“Relations between Israel and Colombia always were warm and no antisemitic and hate-filled president will succeed in changing that,” Katz wrote on Tuesday. “The state of Israel will continue to defend its citizens without worry and without fear.”

Colombia deepened its military ties with Israel in the late 1980s by purchasing Kfir fighter jets that were used by Colombia’s air force in numerous attacks on remote guerrilla camps that debilitated the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or the Farc. The attacks helped push the group into peace talks that resulted in its disarmament in 2016.

Petro had previously come out in support of Brazil’s president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who also provoked the ire of Israel for saying its Gaza campaign “isn’t a war, it’s a genocide”.

Colombia and Brazil supported South Africa’s complaint against Israel to the international court of justice in The Hague, alleging the Gaza assault amounted to a breach of the genocide convention.

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