Brazilian president calls military offensive in Gaza a "massacre," but denies any break in diplomatic ties with Israel
World Bulletin/News Desk
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has condemned Israel's military offensive in Gaza as a "massacre", joining international calls for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
Speaking with journalists at a forum organized by the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper on Monday, Rousseff said calls for an end to the bloodshed made by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier in the day were "extremely welcome".
Rousseff said: "I think what is happening in Gaza is extremely dangerous; it is a massacre. It is not a genocide that is being waged, but a disproportionate act.
"It's a humanitarian issue. The area is so small and women and children are dying. We know that in a war like this, the ones who pay are the civilians."
The lives of at least 1,119 Palestinians and 53 Israelis have been lost in the bloody conflict between Israel and Hamas, which began on July 8.
Hamas has said it has killed 110 Israeli troops.
The comments made by the Brazilian leader appeared to clarify those made last week by her chief adviser on international affairs, Marco Aurélio Garcia, who said Israel's offensive was tantamount to a "genocide".
It is the first time the president has spoken on the subject since Brazil announced last Thursday that its ambassador in Tel Aviv, Henrique Sardinha Pinto, would be recalled - an act of protest in diplomatic terms.
Rousseff said the ambassador would return in due course and there was no break in diplomatic relations between the two countries, who continued to be "friends".
The announcement had threatened to spark a major diplomatic row between the states, particularly when Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor lambasted Brazil, calling it a "diplomatic dwarf" that was "politically irrelevant".
Brazil's response at the time sought to defuse the situation.
Rousseff said she "regretted" the spokesperson's choice of language, which had "produced a very bad climate" between the two nations.
The Brazilian president will join the leaders of Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela in Caracas on Tuesday for an annual summit of the Mercosur South American economic bloc, according to the Agência Brasil news agency.
The leaders are expected to discuss the situation in Gaza and produce a joint declaration.
O Muslim and Arab nations, Wake up !!!
Israel Faces Latin American Backlash
Some Governments Recall Diplomats, Issue Strongly-Worded Statements
LIMA, Peru—Bolivian President Evo Morales on Wednesday
labeled Israel a "terrorist state" and announced that Israelis need visas to visit, the latest in a series of measures Latin American countries have leveled against Israel for the violence in the Gaza Strip.
Criticism of Israeli policies has come from some parts of the world. Latin American countries have stood out by coordinating a range of diplomatic measures, including recalling their ambassadors for consultations and issuing sharply worded statements, political analysts said.
"Israel doesn't guarantee the principle of respect for life, and the basic right to live in harmony and peace in the international community,"
Mr. Morales said Wednesday in a speech in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba. There was no immediate Israeli response to Mr. Morale's accusations or Bolivia's decision to require that Israeli visitors apply for visas.
On Tuesday, at a meeting of the Mercosur trade bloc in Caracas, Venezuela, the presidents of four of the five countries in the organization demanded an end to the military actions in Gaza and called for Israel to permit the free flow of people, food and humanitarian aid. In a statement, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela said they "energetically condemn the disproportionate use of force by the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip, which in the majority affects civilians, including children and women."
That same day, three other Latin American countries called home their ambassadors: El Salvador, Chile and Peru. The region's most influential country,
Brazil, had done so last week, while Ecuador made the move on July 17. Uruguay and Argentina, which has a large Jewish community, maintained their ambassadors in Israel. Leftist Venezuela, which sharply opposes U.S. policy in the Middle East and is Latin America's most vocal critic of Israel, broke relations with the Jewish state years ago.
"Latin America has moved to take a stand on the Gaza war," said Michael Shifter, president of the Washington, D. C-based policy group, inter-American Dialogue. "In that respect, it has set itself apart from other regional blocs."
Israel's foreign ministry on Wednesday issued a statement in which it expressed "its deep disappointment with the hasty decision of the governments of El Salvador, Peru and Chile to recall their ambassadors for consultations. This step constitutes encouragement for Hamas, a group recognized as a terror organization by many countries around the world."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government a week ago also had pointed words for Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's administration. After her government called home its ambassador, the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, Yigal Palmor, responded by calling
Brazil a "diplomatic dwarf." It was an insult that made headlines in some of the Brazil's largest newspapers. Israel hasn't responded to Mercosur's joint statement.
Analysts say that while countries with populist leaders opposed to Washington have been particularly vociferous in criticizing Israel, more centrist countries with solid ties to the U.S. have also expressed their displeasure with the violence in Gaza. In Chile's case, Ms. Bachelet's government has also condemned rocket attacks against Israeli civilians by Hamas, the militant group that governs Gaza.
"It isn't only the nations with left-leaning governments that have recalled their ambassadors, but this time it is also other governments," said Farid Kahhat, a political scientist and Middle East expert with the Catholic University of Peru. "This transcends ideologies."
There are important countries in the region that maintain their top diplomats in Israel, including Colombia and Mexico. But many of the region's leading countries
have increasingly been vocal about showing support for the Palestinians.
The momentum began in 2010 and 2011, when a wave of South American countries recognized a Palestinian state in a matter of weeks, among them Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and several others, irking Israel.
"Latin America's emerging consensus condemning Israel for its military actions in Gaza is not surprising," said Mr. Shifter.