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Colombia pauses buying Israeli weapons and president calls war in Gaza 'genocide'

ADAM BEAM
February 29, 2024

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) -- Colombia's President Gustavo Petro announced Thursday his government is suspending purchases of weapons from Israel after Palestinians say Israeli troops fired at people seeking food in Gaza, marking an escalation of tensions between both countries over the Israel-Hamas war.

Describing the deaths as "genocide," Petro said he blamed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the violence around the aid convoy. Health officials in Gaza say at least 112 people were killed, bringing the war's death toll to more than 30,000 people. Israel said many of the dead were trampled in a chaotic stampede for the food.

Petro's statement came months after Israel suspended security exports to Colombia in a diplomatic spat over online messages by Colombia's president comparing Israel's siege of Gaza to the actions of Nazi Germany.

"Asking for food, more than 100 Palestinians were killed by Netanyahu," Petro said in a post on X, formerly Twitter. "This is called genocide and is reminiscent of the Holocaust even if the world powers do not like to recognize it. The world must block Netanyahu. Colombia suspends all purchases of weapons from Israel."

Colombia has been a key U.S. ally for years and one of Israel's closest partners in Latin America. Relations with Israel and the U.S. have cooled since Petro was elected as the country's first leftist president in 2022, although Bogota and Washington have stayed on relatively good terms despite differences over U.S. drug policy and Venezuela.

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.

Colombia deepened its military ties with Israel in the late 1980s by purchasing a group of Kfir fighter jets capable of using laser-guided bombs. They were used by Colombia's air force in numerous attacks on remote guerrilla camps that debilitated the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, helping push the group into peace talks that resulted in its disarmament in 2016.

Weeks after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel that sparked the current war in Gaza and killed some 1,200 people, Petro also recalled Colombia's ambassador to Israel as he criticized the country's military offensive.

Since the conflict began, Colombia has repatriated more than 300 of its citizens on humanitarian flights. Once of its air force planes also carried humanitarian aid to Egypt to be delivered to the Palestinian population.

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