Colombia says it will halt coal sales to Israel over war in Gaza

Government document says exports to only resume once Jerusalem complies with UN court ruling on Rafah; Colombian Mining Association says move imperils markets, foreign investment

Colombian President Gustavo Petro delivers a speech during a military ceremony at the Military School of Cadets General Jose Maria Cordova in Bogota on May 31, 2024. (Raul ARBOLEDA / AFP)
Colombian President Gustavo Petro delivers a speech during a military ceremony at the Military School of Cadets General Jose Maria Cordova in Bogota on May 31, 2024. (Raul ARBOLEDA / AFP)

Colombian President Gustavo Petro announced on Saturday that his country will suspend coal exports to Israel over the war against Hamas in Gaza, with relations souring between two countries that were once close military and commercial allies.

Petro wrote on the social media platform X that coal exports will only resume “when the genocide” in Gaza stops. Petro also posted a draft decree that says coal exports will only resume if Israel complies with a recent order by the International Court of Justice to immediately halt the military assault on Rafah that would risk the destruction of the civilian population sheltering there.

Israel denies accusations that its war violates the international genocide convention, stressing that its military operations are targeted against terror groups which operate within civilian infrastructure.

According to the Colombian government, the coal export ban will enter into force five days after the decree is published in the official gazette and will not affect goods that have already been authorized for shipment.

Bogota underscored coal’s role as “a strategic resource for the manufacture of weapons, the mobilization of troops and the manufacture of provisions for military operations.”

According to Colombia’s National Statistics Department, coal exports to Israel were worth more than $320 million in the first eight months of last year. That’s a small fraction of the nation’s overall coal exports, which were worth more than $9 billion in 2023.

File: A paddle boarder passes the Orot Rabin power station near Hadera, central Israel, November 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Israel imports more than 50 percent of its coal from Colombia, according to the American Journal for Transportation, and uses much of it to feed its power plants.

Petro, who was elected into office in 2022 as Colombia’s first leftist president, broke diplomatic ties with Israel in May, saying that he could not maintain relations with the “genocidal” government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Both governments have continued to keep consulates in each other’s territories and conduct trade.

Colombia has long depended on Israel for military hardware that includes assault rifles and intelligence equipment. The South American nation has also bought more than 30 fighter jets from Israel over the past three decades and depends on Israeli companies for their maintenance.

New military purchases have been halted, however, as relations between the two countries deteriorate. Critics of Petro have said that the president’s decision to cut ties with Israel jeopardizes Colombia’s security capabilities as its military fights drug cartels and rebel groups in rural parts of the country.

On Thursday, the Colombian Mining Association expressed concern over the possibility of exports being suspended, noting a trade treaty between the two nations in place since 2020.

“Israel is a key destination for Colombia’s thermal coal exports,” the organization said in a statement, adding that banning shipments “jeopardizes confidence in markets and foreign investment.”

But others applauded Petro’s latest move against Israel. The Global Energy Embargo for Palestine, an advocacy group that has been trying to convince nations around the world to stop coal and oil exports to Israel, said in a statement on Saturday that Colombia’s decision could put pressure on Israel to change its policies in the Gaza Strip, and will also put pressure on Israeli settlements in the West Bank that rely on electric plants fueled by coal imports.

“We urgently call on South Africa, which provides 9% of Israel’s coal, to follow Colombia’s lead,” the group said in the statement while urging other countries with significant energy exports to also consider a ban.

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) with then-Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos at a press conference in Jerusalem on June 11, 2013. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

Unlike previous Colombian presidents, who kept strong ties with Israel, Petro has been an outspoken critic of the Middle Eastern nation and initially refused to condemn the Hamas massacre — which saw thousands of terrorists burst across the border by land, air, and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 251 hostages, mostly civilians — that sparked the ongoing war.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 36,000 people in the Strip have been killed or are presumed dead in the fighting so far. Of these, some 24,000 fatalities have been identified at hospitals or through self-reporting by families, with the rest of the figure based on Hamas “media sources.” The tolls, which cannot be verified, include some 15,000 terror operatives Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

A total of 295 IDF soldiers and one police officer have been killed during the ground offensive against Hamas and amid operations along the Gaza border. A civilian Defense Ministry contractor was also killed in the Strip.

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