President Jacob Zuma File picture: Chris Collingridge

Cape Town - President Jacob Zuma has hit out at Israel’s “disproportionate” killing of Palestinian civilians, calling for the immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from the territory.

Addressing the ANC’s Imvuselelo Campaign launch in Botshabelo, Mangaung, on Sunday, Zuma dedicated parts of his speech to addressing the conflict between Israel and Palestine. He called for an immediate ceasefire.

While condemning both sides, Zuma said the latest development was “shocking” and could not be ignored.

On Sunday, Israel was reported to be expanding its ground offensive against the Gaza Strip, as the fighting entered its 13th day with the death toll reaching more than 360, mostly Palestinian civilians.

Zuma’s comments follow a harsh tone from the party’s deputy secretary-general, Jessie Duarte, who condemned Israel for its “barbaric” attacks on Palestinians.

Zuma said that South Africa and the government would remain “committed to contributing to a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the Palestine-Israeli conflict, on the basis of a universally recognised international legal framework”.

“The latest developments in that region are shocking and cannot be ignored by freedom- and peace-loving people worldwide. The ANC strongly condemns the launch of the ground invasion of the Gaza Strip by the Israeli Defence Force.

“The disproportionate killing by the Israeli forces has to date resulted in the deaths of close to 300 Palestinians with almost 2 000 civilians injured,” said Zuma.

The Israeli Defence Force must immediately withdraw from the Gaza Strip, he said, and “bring to an end the violent and destructive incursions into Palestinian territories”.

“We equally condemn the continued firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel, putting the lives of innocent civilians at risk. Both parties must end all forms of aggression towards one another,” said Zuma.

South Africa was also opposed to any attempt to use the current situation to undermine the unity government in Palestine “whose establishment was warmly welcomed by peace-loving people the world over”.

“We strongly urge 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,” said Zuma.

He said the “two states” solution was the only “viable” resolution for a Palestine existing “side by side and in peace with Israel, “within mutually agreed and international recognised borders” based on the June 4, 1967, lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

“We strongly oppose the continuous construction and expansion of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories by the Israeli government, which violates international law, gravely undermines peace efforts and threatens the viability of the two-state solution,” said Zuma.

He also called on the UN Security Council to “fully exercise its functions” under the UN Charter with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

SA Jewish Board of Deputies president Zev Krengel commended Zuma’s “balanced” comments on the conflict, “unlike Duarte”.

Krengel said it was important that Zuma made mention of the rocket fire coming from Hamas on the Palestinian side.

Political Bureau