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Blinken arrives in Brazil after Lula Israel spat

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in Brazil for his first trip to the South American nation, arriving amid a diplomatic spat after President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva enraged US ally Israel by comparing its Gaza campaign to the Holocaust.

Mr Blinken will start his visit in Brasilia, and also go to Rio de Janeiro for a Group of 20 summit, followed by a stop in Argentina, where he will confer with the new President Javier Milei.

Over the weekend, the 78-year-old veteran leftist Mr Lula, said that what was happening in Gaza “isn’t a war, it’s a genocide.”

“What’s happening in the Gaza Strip with the Palestinian people hasn’t happened at any other moment in history. Actually, it has happened: when Hitler decided to kill the Jews,” Mr Lula said.

He received backing from the presidents of Colombia and Bolivia, two fellow South American countries to have criticised Israel.

The comparison outraged Israel, which declared Mr Lula persona non grata and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Brazilian president had “crossed a red line.”

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said of Mr Lula’s remarks, “Obviously we disagree with those comments.”

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva compared Israel’s campaign in Gaza to the halocaust

“We have been quite clear that we do not believe that genocide has occurred in Gaza,” Mr Miller told reporters.

In tit-for-tat escalation, Brazil and Israel have each summoned the other’s ambassador, with Brazil recalling its envoy for consultations.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz called Mr Lula’s comparisons “delusional,” and was himself called a liar by his Brazilian counterpart.

The war started 7 October, when Hamas launched an unprecedented attack that left about 1,160 people dead in southern Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.

Hamas militants also took about 250 hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 30 presumed dead, according to Israel.

Israel’s retaliatory campaign has killed more than 29,092 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest count by the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

President Joe Biden has been Israel’s key backer, with the United States yesterday, again vetoing a ceasefire call at the UN Security Council, even as Mr Biden voices concern over the toll on civilians and presses Israel to let in more aid.

The Brazilian G20 summit marks the first meeting of the foreign ministers since September

Outspoken Brazilian leaders

Mr Blinken’s first trip as secretary of state to Brazil comes more than three years into his tenure, an unusually long wait to visit the Western Hemisphere’s second most populous nation.

However the Biden administration had limited interest in dealing with Mr Lula’s predecessor, the far-right Jair Bolsonaro, an ally of former president Donald Trump who similarly scoffed at climate action and is under investigation for an alleged attempt to overturn a democratic election.

Mr Lula, who previously served as president from 2003 to 2010, travelled to Washington and met with Mr Biden after returning to power early last year.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is not scheduled to meet Mr Blinken one-on-one in Rio

However Mr Lula has already shown his divergence with the United States on the international stage with his stance on Ukraine.

He has charged that both Ukraine and its Western backers bear partial responsibility for the war, not just Russia, which invaded almost exactly two years ago.

The G20 meeting of foreign ministers in Rio de Janeiro will also mark a rare occasion since the war in which Mr Blinken will be in the same room as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

At the last G20 foreign ministers’ meeting in New Delhi in March 2023, Mr Blinken held his only one-on-one in-person meeting, albeit briefly, with Lavrov since the war.

No meeting has been announced in Rio, and the US is moving to take more punitive steps toward Russia after the death in prison of Alexei Navalny, the top political opponent of President Vladimir Putin.

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