South Africa is bringing back its diplomats from Israel to reevaluate the relationship, prompted by increased civilian casualties resulting from the conflict with the Palestinian group Hamas, as stated by its foreign minister on Monday.
For many years, South Africa has been a proponent of peace in the Middle East and has shown support for Palestinians, drawing parallels between their struggle and its own history under an apartheid regime that concluded in 1994.
Describing the recall of diplomats as a routine procedure, Naledi Pandor explained that it aims to assess whether there is an opportunity to offer assistance and if the ongoing relationship can be maintained under all circumstances.
South Africa currently lacks an ambassador in Israel.
The nation is “extremely concerned at the continued killing of children and innocent civilians” in the Palestinian territory, the foreign minister said.
“We believe the nature of response by Israel has become one of collective punishment,” she noted, detailing that the country would continue to call for a comprehensive ceasefire in Palestine.
More than 1,400 people were killed by Hamas in the deadly Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel, which South Africa has denounced, while also calling for the return of hostages. Since the commencement of the war, over 10,000 Palestinians have been killed, health officials in Hamas-controlled Gaza have said.
“The South African government’s decision to recall its diplomatic staff is a victory for the Hamas terrorist organization and rewards it for the massacre it carried out on October 7,” the Israeli foreign ministry said in a statement.
It noted that Israel expects South Africa to repudiate Hamas and “respect Israel’s right to defend itself.”
At the recent Cairo Peace Summit, President Cyril Ramaphosa advocated for countries to refrain from providing weapons to either side of the conflict. Meanwhile, South Africa’s foreign ministry appealed to the United Nations to send forces to safeguard civilians in Gaza.
During a joint press briefing with her Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, Naledi Pandor delivered these statements in Pretoria.
She reported that there has been advancement in two of the ten points presented as part of the African peace initiative, specifically regarding the repatriation of children from Russia to Ukraine and the ongoing exchange of prisoners.
However, the minister did not offer additional information or specifics about these developments.