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Brazilian president accuses Israel of committing genocide in Gaza

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, File)
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, File)

Brazil’s president has claimed Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians, after stirring controversy a week earlier by comparing Israel’s military offensive in Gaza to the Nazi Holocaust.

Israel has vehemently pushed back against genocide claims made at the UN’s top court and elsewhere, saying its war targets the militant group Hamas, not the Palestinian people.

It has held Hamas responsible for civilian deaths, arguing that the group operates from civilian areas.

Meanwhile, an Israeli delegation returned from a meeting in Paris with negotiators from the United States, Egypt and Qatar to try to reach a deal on pausing the fighting, an Israeli official said.

Israel Palestinians Rafah Photo Gallery
Buildings destroyed by an Israeli air strike in Rafah (Fatima Shbair/AP)

The delegation was expected to meet with high-ranking Cabinet members on Saturday. Egypt and Qatar are mediators between Israel and Hamas.

The Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza said on Saturday that the bodies of 92 Palestinians killed in Israeli bombardments were brought to hospitals over the past 24 hours, raising the overall toll in nearly five months of war to 29,606. The total number of wounded rose to nearly 70,000.

The ministry’s death toll does not distinguish between civilians and combatants, but it has said two thirds of those killed were children and women. Israel says its troops have killed more than 10,000 Hamas fighters, but has not provided details.

An Israeli air strike hit a house in Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, killing at least eight people, including four women and a child, health authorities said. An Associated Press journalist saw the bodies at a hospital.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said that he would not give up his “dignity for falsehood”, an apparent reference to calls for him to retract comments comparing Israel’s conduct in Gaza to the Nazi Holocaust, in which six million Jews and others perished during the Second World War.

“What the Israeli government is doing is not war, it is genocide,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “Children and women are being murdered.”

Israel Palestinians Rafah Photo Gallery
Palestinians line up for food aid in Rafah (Fatima Shbair/AP)

In response to his initial comments, Israel declared him a persona non grata, summoned Brazil’s ambassador and demanded an apology. The president then recalled Brazil’s ambassador to Israel for consultations.

Last month, South Africa filed a landmark case with the International Court of Justice, accusing Israel of genocide against Palestinians. The court issued a preliminary order two weeks later, ordering Israel to do all it can to prevent death, destruction and any acts of genocide in Gaza.

Israel, created in part as a refuge for survivors of the Holocaust, has accused South Africa of hypocrisy. South Africa has compared Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in Gaza with the treatment of black South Africans during apartheid, framing the issues as fundamentally about people oppressed in their homeland.

Israel declared war after the deadly October 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel in which militants killed about 1,200 people and took around 250 hostages. More than 100 hostages remain in captivity in Gaza.

The rising civilian death toll and worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza have amplified calls for a ceasefire. Hunger and infectious diseases are spreading and about 80% of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been displaced, with about 1.4 million crowded into Rafah on the border with Egypt.

“There are choking, skyrocketing prices. It’s terrifying. There is no source of income. The area is very overcrowded,” said Hassan Attwa, a displaced man from Gaza City who now shelters in a tent on the sand in Mawasi in the south.

Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu (Ohad Zwigenberg/AP)

“The garbage, may God bless you, is not collected at all. It stays piled up. It turns into a mess and clay when it rains. The situation is disastrous in every sense of the word.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to fight until “total victory”, but dispatched the delegation to Paris to seek the release of hostages in exchange for a temporary truce.

Negotiators face wide gaps and an unofficial deadline – the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan around March 10.

Meanwhile, Mr Netanyahu and his conservative government drew an angry response from the United States, its closest ally, over plans to build more than 3,300 new homes in settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Mr Netanyahu’s firebrand finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, has said the plans came in response to a Palestinian shooting attack earlier in the week that killed one Israeli and wounded five.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken said on Friday that he was “disappointed” to hear of the Israeli announcement.

“It’s been long-standing US policy under Republican and Democratic administrations alike that new settlements are counterproductive to reaching an enduring peace,” he said. “They’re also inconsistent with international law.”

The Biden administration also restored a US legal finding dating back nearly 50 years that Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories are “illegitimate” under international law.