Argentina’s government on Wednesday condemned Israel's attack on the Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip in the midst of its war against Hamas and called for international aid to reach the people of the Palestinian territory as a matter of urgency.
However, the statement sparked immediate pushback from Jewish groups and from ruling coalition presidential candidate Sergio Massa, who retweeted a message by a national senator criticising the government’s stance.
"Argentina has unequivocally condemned the terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hamas on October 7 and recognises Israel's right to legitimate self-defence. However, nothing justifies the violation of international humanitarian law, and the obligation to protect the civilian population," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
"Our country therefore condemns the IDF attack on the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza, which resulted in hundreds of deaths and injuries. It is essential to immediately halt attacks on civilian infrastructure, especially those aimed at ensuring the provision of essential services in the Gaza Strip, including hospitals, water desalination plants and refugee reception centres," it continued.
The release was a notable shift in the nation’s position on the crisis in the Middle East. To date, the government has been supportive of Israel following the devastating October 7 attack by Hamas.
The Hamas government in Gaza said Thursday that at least 195 people had been killed in Israeli strikes this week on Jabalia refugee camp, the biggest in the tiny Palestinian territory.
Massa – who has firmly backed Israel’s right to self-defence – on Thursday shared a tweet in response to the statement written by Tucumán Senator Pablo Yedlin.
"I once again condemn the criminal terrorist attack by Hamas on Israel on 7/10, I reiterate the absolute right to defend the State of Israel, I call for the immediate release of the hostages. Hamas is hiding behind innocent civilians, who are also its victims. Not like this", said Yedlin in response to the government's statement.
Massa said at an event this week that he would declare Hamas a terrorist organisation if elected. That would bring Argentina in-line with several Western nations, as well as the United States and European Union.
“If on December 10 I have the responsibility to govern Argentina, we will include Hamas on the list of terrorist organisations, because this was a terrorist attack,” the Unión por la Patria presidential candidate declared.
Latin American nations are generally divided on the issue, with left-wing governments leading the criticism of the offensive in Gaza. On Tuesday, Bolivia said it was breaking off relations with Israel. Chile and Colombia have recalled their ambassadors for consultations in the wake of Israeli bombardment.
Argentina, home of one of the largest Jewish communities outside of Israel, has been in talks with Israel and some Arab nations to try and secure the release of 21 Argentines who remain among the hostages being held by Hamas.
No official list identifying the hostages has been released, though government officials have admitted that one kidnap victim is a nine-month-old baby.
On Thursday, Foreign Minister Santiago Cafifero asked the International Committee of the Red Cross for assistance with the “immediate and unconditional” release of hostages.
“Argentina reiterates that the hostages, who continue to be victims of armed actions, must be released unconditionally and without delay by Hamas,” said the Foreign Ministry.
Nevertheless, the Foreign Ministry considered that "the humanitarian situation in Gaza is increasingly alarming" and that "international assistance must reach the affected population without restrictions and as a matter of urgency.”
”The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for an immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce, leading to a cessation of hostilities. Argentina voted in favour and continues to support this call, and reiterates its grave concern about the consequences of the escalation of violence, while recalling that there can be no armed solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” it concluded.
Opposition lawmakers from the Juntos por el Cambio coalition have asked the government to explain which efforts are being made to secure the return of the hostages.
Following the outbreak of war, Argentina has repatriated several hundred of its citizens from Israel.
The government's position was rejected by the Delegation of Israelite Associations of Argentina (DAIA), which in a statement called on the government to "differentiate itself from the pusillanimous positions of some countries in the region that have decided to break relations with Israel and condemn its legitimate right to defence.”
"The DAIA condemns the Argentine Foreign Ministry's criticism of Israel for its military response to the criminal Hamas terrorist attack of 7 October, and ratifies the right of a democratic state to defend itself in the face of a brutal attack in which more than 1,400 people were killed, thousands were injured and 239 human beings were kidnapped, including men, women, the elderly and children, 21 of whom are Argentines," read a statement signed by Alejandro Zuchowicki, DAIA secretary general, and Jorge Knoblovits, DAIA president.
Argentina has the largest Jewish community in Latin America, with more than 250,000 people.
The Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires was bombed in 1992, killing 29 people and injuring more than 200. Two years later there was another attack on the headquarters of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA), which killed 85 people and injured some 300.