Latin America closes ranks behind Palestinians on Gaza crisis

Bogota : Bolivia has joined the majority of Latin American governments in condemning Israel’s offensive in Gaza, announcing that it will demand visas from Israelis.

Meanwhile, Venezuela said it would send humanitarian aid to the people in Gaza after unsuccessful appeals to end the violence.

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Most Latin American countries have condemned the offensive, which has left more than 1,300 Palestinians dead over the past 24 days and five of them — Chile, Peru, El Salvador, Brazil and Ecuador — have recalled their ambassadors in Israel.

Bolivian President Evo Morales announced Wednesday that his country would demand visas from the citizens of Israel, which he called a “terrorist state”, and Venezuela said it would send humanitarian aid as a gesture of solidarity with those who are being “massacred” in Gaza.

These actions came as Peru, Chile and El Salvador Wednesday announced they were recalling their ambassadors for consultation, and as Costa Rica said it was considering a similar move Thursday.

Brazil and Ecuador were the first to recall their diplomats last week in protest against what they consider indiscriminate attacks against Gaza’s civilian population.

For Luis Alexander Montero, advisor to Palestine’s Special Mission in Colombia, Latin America’s response goes beyond politics, because Israel has economic ties with Latin American countries through free trade agreements with Mercosur or Southern Common Market and with Colombia.

In a statement issued Wednesday after the end of a Mercosur Summit in Caracas, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Venezuela expressed their solidarity with the Palestinians and strongly condemned Israel for its “disproportionate” use of force in its Operation Protective Edge.

On Wednesday, Paraguay, another Mercosur member, called for “an immediate end to aggression and hostilities” in the Gaza Strip.

For its part, Chile, home to the largest number of Palestinians outside of the Middle East, announced it was recalling its ambassador due to “the scale and intensity of Israeli operations in Gaza” that violate the “fundamental principles of international humanitarian law”.

Nonetheless, Chilean Ambassador Heraldo Munoz said Wednesday the move did not imply direct support to the Palestinians, adding that Chile has a “greater responsibility” in this case as a member of the UN Security Council.

Peru has also deplored the attacks by both sides and rejected any type of violence to justify the withdrawal of its Ambassador in Israel, Jose Salinas.

On Wednesday, Israel’s ministry of foreign affairs responded that “it would have been much better” if these countries “had joined international efforts to help Israel defend innocent civilians and reach a lasting ceasefire that includes the demilitarisation of Gaza”.

Cuba, Colombia and Mexico have also protested against the escalation of violence, making an appeal for a ceasefire while the Presidents of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, and Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, urged a final solution to the problem.

Montero believes that this show of support by Latin American countries is a result of the “closeness” the region has with the Palestinians.

Latin America had already positioned itself behind Palestine in the UN Human Rights Council, voting in favour of a firm condemnation of Israel in a resolution that was opposed by only the US out of 47 countries.

However, the US, Israel’s main ally and champion of its right to defend itself from Palestinian rocket attacks, criticised the bombing Wednesday of a UN school in the Gaza strip used as a shelter for Palestinian refugees.

This attack, that left at least 16 civilians dead, including several children, and more than 100 wounded, was described by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as “scandalous and unjustifiable” during his visit to Costa Rica.

This week, Israel also found itself in a difficult position due to its criticism of US Secretary of State John Kerry, whose proposal for a ceasefire was questioned by the Israeli press as he attempted to involve Qatar and Turkey, whom Israel considers allies of Hamas, in the negotiations.

The US State Department responded that “that is simply not the way allies treat each other”.

The last large-scale Israeli offensive against Gaza was Operation Defensive Pillar in November 2012, in which 170 Palestinians died and 1,300 were injured, and the largest was Operation Cast Lead at the end of 2008, in which 1,300 Palestinians lost their lives and 5,000 were wounded.

The present conflict began two weeks before the right-wing Reuven Rivlin replaced Simon Peres as president of Israel.

The advisor to Palestine’s Special Mission in Bogota considers it a “perverse coincidence” that these conflicts occur in the middle of Israel’s electoral calendar.