South Africa on Wednesday sharply condemned the Israeli military’s actions during last Friday’s protests at the Gaza border, calling them an “act of violent aggression.”
In a press release, the country’s foreign ministry also demanded the Israel Defense Forces “withdraw” from the coastal strip, although Israel uprooted all permanent civilian and military presence there back in 2005.
“The South African government strongly condemns the latest act of violent aggression carried out by Israeli armed forces in Gaza, which has led to the deaths of about 17 Palestinian citizens, with scores of others reported injured,” the statement by the Department for International Relations and Cooperation read.
“South Africa reiterates its view that the Israeli Defence Force must withdraw from the Gaza Strip and bring to an end the violent and destructive incursions into Palestinian territories. South Africa maintains further that the violence in the Gaza Strip will stand in the way of rebuilding Palestinian institutions and infrastructure,” the statement went on.
The IDF regularly sends bulldozers past the Gaza security fence, but they generally remain in a buffer zone located before the actual border. Israeli ground troops have not entered Gaza since the end of the 2014 Operation Protective Edge, with the exception of some special forces carrying out covert operations. Israeli aircraft often fly over the coastal enclave and conduct airstrikes there in retaliation to attacks or to bomb tunnels and other underground structures.
“The actions of the Israeli armed forces present yet another obstacle to a permanent resolution to the conflict, which must come in the form of two states, Palestine and Israel, existing side-by-side and in peace,” South Africa’s Foreign Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said. “South Africa aligns itself with those members of the United Nations calling for an independent inquiry into the killings, with a view to holding to account those who are responsible.”
The UN, the European Union and various other bodies and states have called for investigations into Israel’s use of live fire as it sought to fend off violent protesters at the Gaza border.
Israel has defended its live fire policy. The military has identified over 10 of Palestinians killed since the protests began as members of various Palestinian terrorist groups.
On Friday, over 30,000 Palestinians demonstrated along the Gaza border, in what Israel describes as a riot orchestrated by the Hamas terrorist group, which rules Gaza, and what Palestinians say was supposed to be a peaceful protest.
There were discrepancies in Palestinian reports on the Gaza death toll from Friday. While Hamas claimed Monday that 18 had died, the official news agency of the Palestinian Authority had the number at 16. Israel has no official death toll figures. Over 1,000 were reported injured.
IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis said on Saturday that all those killed were engaged in violence. Manelis said on Friday evening that the army had faced “a violent, terrorist demonstration at six points” along the fence. He said the IDF used “pinpoint fire” wherever there were attempts to breach or damage the security fence. The IDF on Saturday named and detailed 10 of the dead as members of terror groups including Hamas. (Hamas had earlier acknowledged five of them were its members.) Islamic Jihad later claimed an 11th.
Violent protests have been staged every day since Friday’s mass demonstration, though on a far smaller level, usually involving a few dozen people. Nevertheless, the army has remained on high alert in the area out of concerns that terror groups could capitalize on the tensions and carry out attacks.
Also on Wednesday, South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress, called for a cultural boycott of Israel.
It was reacting to the recent performance in Tel Aviv of South African DJ Nkosinathi Maphumulo, who is know by his stage name Black Coffee.
“We call on all artists to have an appreciation of the role played by the international anti-apartheid solidarity movement in the successful international isolation of apartheid South Africa,” said Lindiwe Zulu, who chairs the ANC’s International Relations Committee.
“The people of Palestine are in a just cause for self determination and we urge our artists not to form part of the normalization of Israel’s suppression of the Palestinian people in their quest for self determination and statehood that mirrors our very own struggle.”
The ANC has long adopted a very hostile stance toward Israel, endorsing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in 2002.
Last month, the African National Congress, South Africa’s ruling party, said it was “actively participating” in the 14th annual Israel Apartheid Week to express solidarity with the “heroic people of Palestine” and because it is “particularly concerned by the increased targeting of Palestinian children by the government of Israel.”
In December, the ANC passed a resolution calling on the government to immediately downgrade the country’s embassy in Israel and turn it into a “liaison office.” So far, however, the government in Pretoria has not implemented the decision.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.