South African Ambassador to Palestine Ashraf Suliman meets with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza. Picture: Supplied/Palestine Information Centre (PIC)

Johannesburg – South African Ambassador to Palestine, Ashraf Suliman, has confirmed South Africa’s full support for the rights of Palestinians and denounced recent Israeli attacks on the besieged Gaza Strip.

Speaking to the African News Agency (ANA), at the Erez border crossing from Gaza into Israel, Suliman confirmed he had just concluded a visit to the coastal territory where he met with Hamas leaders and called for the lifting of the 13-year-long blockade on the enclave.

During Suliman's meeting with Hamas' Political Bureau Chief Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza, the ambassador praised the efforts exerted on the regional and international level to lift the siege on Gaza, end the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza, and achieve reconciliation between the two main Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah.

"Statistics, including those of the United Nations point to Gaza being unliveable by the year 2020. Gazans want free movement and access to the international community. There should be no hindrance on this," Suliman told ANA.

The siege, jointly imposed with the support of Egypt, has prevented the import and export of many goods from Gaza, limited medical supplies and curtailed fishing and farming, thereby crippling the economy.

Damaged infrastructure remains unrepaired. Untreated sewerage continues to pollute Gaza’s drinking water with the UN recently warning of the outbreak of disease that could spread to Egypt and Israel.

The two men also discussed the latest developments concerning the Palestinian cause in general and the Gaza Strip in particular, the Palestine Information Centre (PIC) reported.

Haniyeh praised the role played by South Africa in supporting the Palestinian cause over the past years and asked for Pretoria's help in reconciling with the Palestinian Authority (PA).

The Fatah-affiliated PA, under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas, nominally controls the Israeli-occupied West Bank while Gaza is controlled by Hamas. The two organisations are at loggerheads following Gaza’s 2007 civil war following which Hamas took control of the territory, replacing the former unity government.

However, both sides of the Palestinian divide agree that South Africa is in a pivotal position to help bring about reconciliation between their two movements.

"Our relationship with Palestine must be broad and incorporate helping to bring about reconciliation between the two sides. The Palestinians need their own state and we need to help them build up their state institutions," the ambassador told ANA.

During his Gaza talks, Suliman also discussed the fragile security situation on the ground with Haniyeh Another war between Hamas and Israel was narrowly avoided last week in renewed fighting between the two sides following intensive intervention from the United Nations and Egypt.

The fighting followed a botched intelligence-gathering raid by Israeli commandos three kilometres inside Gaza when the Israeli unit was intercepted by Hamas.

In the ensuing battle seven Hamas members, and the leader of the Israeli commando unit were killed. Palestinians then fired over 400 rockets towards Israel communities bordering Gaza.

The Israeli Air Force subsequently carried out numerous sorties over Gaza bombing and destroying Hamas buildings, and a TV station belonging to the group.

But the possibility of war remains real especially with Israeli elections looming on the horizon – a period that often precedes increased Israeli military activity, including attacks on Gaza.

The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under growing pressure from the Israeli electorate to take stronger action against rocket attacks from Gaza with his coalition and parliamentarian partners accusing him of weakness in the fact of “terrorism”.

The Palestinian factions, meanwhile, have warned that they will respond to any further attacks with an increase in rocket fire and range towards Israel.

African News Agency (ANA)