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Netanyahu asks Colombia’s president to help secure release of Hamas hostages, including Colombian citizen

The Israeli prime minister has sent a letter to Gustavo Petro asking him to support the efforts to free the 136 people held captive by the Islamic group

Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv (Israel), on December 17.MENAHEM KAHANA (AFP)
Santiago Triana Sánchez

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called on Colombia President Gustavo Petro to help secure the release of the 136 people being held by Hamas — including a Colombian citizen. In a letter dated January 11 but released on Thursday, Netanyahu writes that “Colombia has a common cause with Israel” to fight for the release of the hostages, who were captured during the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7. This attack sparked a fierce response from Israel, with its offensive in Gaza killing more than 25,000 people in three months.

In the letter, Netanyahu points out that three months have passed since the hostages were “brutally” abducted from their homes and from a music festival. The Israeli prime minister claims that many of the hostages saw their loved ones “raped, mutilated, tortured and gruesomely slaughtered before their eyes.”

Among the captives, Netanyahu continues, is Colombian national Elkanah Bohbot, who, he says, has been denied assistance from the International Committee of the Red Cross, like the rest of the hostages. Bohbot is an Israeli citizen married to a Colombian national, Rebeca Gonzalez, with whom he has a daughter. He worked as a member of the logistics team of the Supernova festival, which was targeted by the Hamas attack in October. Last November 21, Petro’s government granted him Colombian nationality, which was expected to facilitate his release and reunification with his family. The measure, however, has had no effect.

In the letter, Netanyahu argues that Iran has supported Hamas for many years without facing “international censure.” The Israeli prime minister states that the same is true of Qatar and Turkey, which, he says, provide safe havens for the “masterminds of Hamas’ terror campaign against Israel.” He also claims that the International Committee of the Red Cross has been “unacceptably passive” to the needs of the Israeli hostages, and that the organization has avoided making an “unequivocal statement of Hamas’ culpability for violating the most fundamental norms of civilized conduct.”

In the missive, Netanyahu calls on Petro to join the fight against the “terrorists.” “Any pressure you can exert towards this end [the release of the hostages], specifically vis-à-vis Iran, Qatar and Turkey, as well as the ICRC, will be invaluable and help save innocent lives.”

Less than a month before Hamas’s incursion into Israel, Petro spoke at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where, in addition to calling for urgent action to address the climate emergency, he spoke about the need to open peace negotiations both in Ukraine and in Palestine. “What is the difference between Ukraine and Palestine? Isn’t it time to end both wars?” he asked. “The same reasons they used to defend [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelenskiy are those same reasons that should be used to defend Palestine.”

Netanyahu’s letter to Petro marks a new chapter in relations between Israel and Colombia, which have been on tense terms since the beginning of the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip. Petro has been one of the Latin American leaders to accuse Israel of using excessive force in its offensive against the Palestinian enclave. In response, the Netanyahu government argued its operation was legitimate self-defense. Tensions peaked in October, when Petro and the Israeli ambassador to Colombia, Gali Dagan, got into a heated exchange on X, formerly Twitter. “I was in the Auschwitz concentration camp and now I see it in Gaza,” Petro posted on the social media site, sparking outrage from the Jewish community.

“Israel condemns the president’s statements that reflect support for the atrocities committed by Hamas terrorists, stoke anti-Semitism, affect representatives of the State of Israel and threaten the peace of the Jewish community in Colombia,” Lior Haiat, spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, posted in response, adding that Israel was halting security exports to Colombia.

Petro responded: “If we must suspend diplomatic relations with Israel, then that is what we will do. You cannot insult the president of Colombia.”

The Colombian president’s criticism of Israel’s offensive in Gaza has not been limited to social media. Petro has reiterated his position in international forums such as the COP28 climate summit, and announced the opening of a Colombian embassy in Ramallah, in the West Bank, and said he would ask the United Nations to accept Palestine as a full member.

The Colombian government has also supported South Africa’s case against Israel at the United Nations International Court of Justice (ICJ), which accuses the Jewish state of “genocidal intent.”

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