South Africa says it is recalling all of its diplomats from Tel Aviv following Israel’s intense air strikes on Gaza on Sunday night.
The bombardment was one of Israel’s heaviest since the war began a month ago.
According to Gaza City’s Al-Shifa hospital, about 200 people were killed.
South Africa’s government, which has long been a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause, condemned Israel on Monday. Foreign minister, Naledi Pandor, told a press conference that South Africa was withdrawing its diplomats, saying: “We are… extremely concerned at the continued killing of children and innocent civilians in the Palestinian territories and we believe the nature of response by Israel has become one of collective punishment.”
“We feel it is important that we signal the concern of South Africa, while continuing to call for a comprehensive cessation [of hostilities].”
Israel has not yet commented on the South African statement, but insists it is trying to minimise civilian casualties and accuses Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, of using non-combatants as human shields.
On 7 October, fighters from Hamas – which the UK, US and other Western powers classify as a terrorist organisation – killed more than 1 400 people in Israel. They also took more than 230 hostages, including one South African national who has not yet been identified.
Israel has responded by vowing to destroy Hamas and carrying out numerous air strikes on Gaza. More than 10 000 people have been killed there since the siege began, the Hamas-run health ministry says.
South Africa’s government has long backed the Palestinians in their conflict with Israel. The ruling African National Congress (ANC) often links the Palestinian cause to its own struggle against apartheid.
The recall of the diplomats was ‘normal practice,’ Pandor said, adding that the envoys would give a “full briefing” to the government. After this, the government will decide whether it can be of assistance, or if a “continued relationship is actually able to be sustained,” Pandor said.
South Africa’s cabinet also accused Israeli ambassador Eliav Belotsercovsky of making derogatory remarks about South Africans, including members of government, who had criticised Israel’s government.
“The disparaging remarks against those speaking up against the atrocities and the country’s leaders make ambassador Belotsercovsky’s position more and more untenable,” the cabinet statement said.
South Africa is not the first country to recall its diplomats from Israel in protest against the military operation in Gaza – Chad, Chile and Colombia are among those to have already done so.
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