Johannesburg - South Africa is gravely concerned by Israel's “illegal” ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, the international relations and co-operation department said on Friday.
“The South African government strongly condemns the (Thursday) launch of the ground invasion of the Gaza Strip by the Israeli Defence Force,” spokesman Clayson Monyela said in a statement.
The invasion had been rejected by the international community and would continue the “endless killing of innocent Palestinian civilians”, especially vulnerable groups such as the elderly, women and children, he said.
“The disproportionate killing by the Israeli forces has to date resulted in the death of more than 250 Palestinians, with almost 2000 civilians injured.
“The senseless invasion will also see the further destruction of civilian property and infrastructure,” said Monyela.
South Africa called on the Israeli Defence Force to immediately withdraw from the Gaza Strip and bring an end to their violent incursions into Palestinian territories.
“The invasion of the Gaza Strip will stand in the way of rebuilding Palestinian institutions and infrastructure that has been destroyed thus far,” he said.
“South Africa equally condemns the continuing firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel putting lives of innocent civilians at risk. Both parties must end all forms of aggression towards one another.”
The South African government was also opposed to any attempt to use the situation to undermine the Palestinian unity government.
Monyela said the advent of the unity government was welcomed by peace-loving people of the world.
He said South Africa on Wednesday, through Israel's ambassador to South Africa, urged the Israeli government not to engage in a ground invasion as it would violate international law.
“South Africa therefore strongly urges both Israel and Hamas to work towards a ceasefire agreement,” he said.
This would be the basis for the resumption of negotiations towards a permanent resolution to the conflict, being a two-state solution of a viable Palestine existing side-by-side and in peace with Israel.
The French news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on Friday that Israel had warned it could broaden a Gaza ground assault aimed at smashing Hamas's network of cross-border tunnels.
This was as Israel stepped up attacks that have killed more than 260 Palestinians, AFP reported.
In the face of Israel's land, sea and air offensive that has sent civilians running for cover, the Islamist movement Hamas which runs Gaza remained defiant and warned the Jewish state it would pay for putting boots on the ground.