South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa

The South African government announced on Monday that it would be recalling all of its diplomats from Israel as a symbolic protest against the ongoing crisis in Gaza.

At a press briefing, Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni stated that the entire diplomatic staff based in Tel Aviv would be summoned back to Pretoria for urgent consultations. She declined to provide further details.

At a separate press conference, Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor expressed South Africa’s extreme concern over the continued casualties amongst Palestinian children and civilians. She characterized Israel’s response as ‘collective punishment’.

“We felt it was important to signal South Africa’s grave concerns while continuing to demand a comprehensive ceasefire,” Minister Pandor remarked.

The current round of deadly clashes erupted a month ago when Hamas militants launched a brazen cross-border attack on Israel. Since October 7th, over 1,400 people have been killed in Israel, most of them civilians.

In retaliation, Israel has pounded Gaza relentlessly from the air and sent in ground forces. Gaza’s health ministry says over 9,700 Palestinians have died, predominantly civilians.

South Africa has historically been an outspoken defender of Palestinian interests. The ruling ANC party has often drawn parallels with its struggle against apartheid.

Minister Pandor described the recall as standard practice. She added that the diplomats would fully brief the government on arriving in Pretoria. The government will then decide whether it can play a constructive role or if ties with Israel should be reconsidered altogether.