South Africa on Monday recalled its ambassador to Israel “until further notice,” in protest of the deaths of at least 55 Palestinians in violent clashes with Israeli troops on the Gaza border earlier in the day.
“The South African government condemns in the strongest terms possible the latest act of violent aggression carried out by Israeli armed forces along the Gaza border‚ which has led to the deaths of over 40 civilians‚” a statement from the country’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation said.
“The victims were taking part in peaceful protests against the provocative inauguration of the US Embassy in Jerusalem,” the statement said of the mass protests organized by the Hamas terror movement. “The latest attack has resulted in scores of other Palestinian citizens reported injured, and the wanton destruction of property.”
“Given the indiscriminate and grave manner of the latest Israeli attack‚ the South African government has decided taken a decision to recall Ambassador Sisa Ngombane with immediate effect until further notice‚” it added.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon confirmed that the South African ambassador was recalled “for consultations.” He will leave for Pretoria on Monday night, Nahshon said.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians attended violent protests on the Gaza border and hundreds of others clashed with Israeli troops on the outskirts of Jerusalem and in other locations in the West Bank, marking the 70th anniversary of what they call the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” of Israel’s creation in 1948, as well as protesting the US Embassy relocation to Jerusalem.
The IDF launched several airstrikes in the Strip, and cited three attempted attacks by armed men against Israeli forces during the riots — two teams of gunmen who opened fire at IDF soldiers, and one group that tried to plant an improvised explosive device along the border. The IDF’s spokesman said Hamas deployed 12 separate terrorist “cells” to try to breach the border at different locations, and that all were rebuffed.
Citing Hamas sources, Hadashot TV news said 10 of the terror group’s members were killed in the clashes, including a son of its co-founder Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi.
Military sources said that Hamas was determined to spark a major new, long-term uprising against Israel, extending to the West Bank.
Pretoria also called on Israel to “withdraw from the Gaza Strip and bring to an end the violent and destructive incursions into Palestinian territories.”
Israel withdrew its forces from the Gaza Strip and dismantled all settlements there in 2005, but maintains a blockade of the territory with the stated intention of preventing the smuggling of weapons there. Hamas, the Islamist terror group which rules the Strip, openly seeks to destroy Israel.
Joint (Arab) List Mk Ahmad Tibi tweeted his “salute” to South Africa for recalling its envoy over Israeli “crimes.”
South Africa’s ruling party resolved last December to call on the government to immediately downgrade the country’s embassy in Israel.
Jewish leaders in South Africa termed the government’s decision to withdraw the ambassador “outrageous,” said it displayed “gross double-standards against the Jewish state,” and urged that the move be reconsidered.
“While we, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and the SA Zionist Federation, regret the loss of life of civilians, we recognize that Israel as a sovereign state has the right to defend its own border and its own citizens,” a statement said. “Israel is facing a real danger with the incitement by Hamas of its own population to storm the security fence and attack Israeli civilians.
“By withdrawing its ambassador,” the statement went on, “South Africa is essentially walking away from playing any meaningful role in finding a sorely needed resolution to the conflict. The rhetoric used by the government has already has spilled into anti-Semitic comment on various social media platforms and the biggest losers are the South African Jewish community, and other peace loving South Africans. This is a victory only for extremism in the Middle East. We call on the South African Government to reconsider its decision immediately.”
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.