World Bulletin / News Desk
Bolivian President Evo Morales declared Israel a "terrorist state" Wednesday and tore up a long-standing visa exemption agreement with the country in protest at the Israeli military offensive in the Gaza strip.
Morales announced that the Bolivian government would now be demanding Israeli visitors apply for a visa in order to enter the South American country, according to Bolivia's El Deber news site.
"We are declaring Israel a terrorist state," Morales said, adding that Israel's military operation meant the country "is not a guarantor of the principles of respect for life that govern the peaceful and harmonious coexistence of our international community."
Earlier in July, Morales filed a request with the United Nations' High Commissioner for Human Rights to prosecute Israel for "crimes against humanity."
Formal diplomatic relations between the two countries were broken off in 2009, during the last major Israeli offensive in Gaza. At that time, Morales labeled the conflict a "genocide."
A visa exemption agreement between Israel and Bolivia was signed in August 1972, during the Bolivian dictatorship. South America is popular destination with young Israelis, who will be affected by the move.
Over the past two weeks five South American countries - Brazil, Ecuador, El Salvador, Peru and Chile - have recalled their ambassadors in Israel, a major act of protest in diplomatic language.
The decision by Brazil in particular angered Israel and a subsequent war of words threatened to spark a serious diplomatic row. Yigal Palmor, a spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, slammed South America's largest country, labeling it "politically irrelevant" and a "diplomatic dwarf."
The Israeli Foreign Ministry expressed its "deep disappointment" over the countries' decision, according to The Jerusalem Post, with Palmor saying Wednesday that the nations "would have been much better advised to promote the international move intended to assist Israel in its efforts to defend innocent civilians and instate a durable ceasefire with the demilitarization of Gaza."
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said Monday that a "massacre" was taking place in the Gaza Strip and backed calls from the United Nations for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. She maintained that Israel was a "friend" and that the ambassador would return "in due course."
On Tuesday, a statement released by four members of the Mercosur group of South American economies after a summit in the Venezuela capital, Caracas, condemned Israel's "disproportionate use of force." Paraguay did not sign the document.
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