Johannesburg - The ANC on Wednesday welcomed President Jacob Zuma's announcement that South Africa would send a special envoy to Israel and Palestine.

“The ANC believes that direct engagement with all parties will assist in persuading each party to help de-escalate the offensive that has grown to current proportions,” spokesman Zizi Kodwa said in a statement.

“We urge all South Africans, including the Jewish community, to join hands with our government in persuading all parties to the conflict to opt for a peaceful solution to the current crisis.”

International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane announced Zuma's intention to send the special envoy to the area - as fighting in the Gaza strip intensified - in Parliament on Tuesday.

South Africa would pledge US1 million in humanitarian aid to Palestine, through United Nations agencies.

Kodwa said the African National Congress welcomed Zuma's undertaking to invite Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on a working visit to South Africa.

On Sunday, Zuma called on both the Israel defence force and Hamas militia to stop hostilities. He called on Israel to withdraw troops from the Gaza strip, while at the same time condemning Hamas's firing of rockets into Israel.

Wednesday marked the 16th day of the deadliest violence in the enclave in five years.

News agency Agence France-Presse reported that 649 Palestinians and 31 Israelis had been killed so far.

Sapa