7/18/14 Pro-Palestine supporters hold posters as they protest in solidarity against the Israeli regime attacks on the Gaza Strip outside the Israel Embassy Trade office in Sandton yesterday. Picture:Paballo Thekiso

Johannesburg - The South African government condemned Israel’s “illegal” and “senseless” ground incursion into Gaza on Friday but resisted pressure from pro-Palestinian civil society, including the ANC, to recall its ambassador to Israel and expel the Israeli ambassador.

Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane condemned Hamas’s rocket attacks and urged both sides to observe a ceasefire as a basis for negotiations towards a two-state solution. She was speaking at a press briefing in Pretoria.

As South Africans again took to the streets to protest against Israel’s 10 days of airstrikes on Gaza followed by a ground attack which has killed more than 250 Palestinians, the minister rejected Israel’s explanation that it had launched a ground attack because Hamas had refused to accept an Egyptian ceasefire.

The Israeli embassy in Pretoria on Friday said: “Israel’s cabinet had approved the ground operation after Israel agreed to Egyptian an ceasefire proposal and Hamas rejected it. Hamas also violated the UN-requested humanitarian ceasefire by continuing to fire on Israel. Israel will defend its citizens in response to Hamas’s unceasing aggression and infiltrations into Israeli territory.”

The minister responded: “You don’t kill 250 people in one day and have 2 000 innocent people lying in hospital. What I saw on TV this morning was still an operation with an excuse to close tunnels that lead to I don’t know where. So ceasefire must be ceasefire. So Israel and Palestine must live up to true, genuine, total ceasefire.”

Asked if the government would respond to growing pressure for ambassadors on both sides to go home, the minister said, “Palestinians know of our unflinching support to the struggle and liberation of the Palestinian people” but added: “Let’s just check how many have thought that just recalling an ambassador resolves all the problems now.

“South Africa is gravely concerned that the illegal ground invasion, which had been rejected by the international community, will continue the endless killing of innocent Palestinian civilians, especially the vulnerable groups – the elderly, women and children,” she said.

She said the invasion would see the further destruction of civilian property and infrastructure.

“The Israeli Defence Force must immediately withdraw from the Gaza Strip and bring to an end the violent and destructive 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.

“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.

“South Africa therefore strongly urges both Israel and Hamas to work towards a ceasefire agreement which will be the basis for the resumption of negotiations towards a permanent resolution to the conflict – a two-state solution of a viable Palestine existing side-by-side and in peace with Israel.”

The force Israel was using in Gaza was unjustifiable because innocent civilians, including children, were being killed, the ANC Chief Whip’s office said yesterday.

“We echo the widespread condemnation of these senseless attacks on defenceless Palestinians and call on the government of Israel to immediately cease with this blatant act of criminality,” spokesman Moloto Mothapo said.

It was unacceptable that while the Israeli military violated the territorial integrity of Gaza, killing hundreds and injuring thousands, the UN Security Council failed to intervene decisively.

“The UN Security Council must stand up and act to support vulnerable Palestinian people at the time when they need their protection.”

The conflict was an undeclared war, with Israel the aggressor. The Palestinian economy was in tatters and its people were being robbed of their land.

“This relentless destruction of the Palestinian territory and its people by Israel must be stopped.”

The international community needed to act in unison.

“As the ANC in Parliament, we stand unapologetically with the people of Palestine and pro-Palestinian campaigners.”

This was so it could exert pressure on Israel’s government to comply with UN Security Council resolutions and stop the persecution of Palestinians. The ANC said the only long-lasting solution was to create two states so Israel and Palestine could exist side-by-side, independently and peacefully, Mothapo said.

Foreign Editor