/ 9 January 2009

President slams Gaza strikes as ‘sheer savagery’

South African President Kgalema Motlanthe this week slammed the attacks in Gaza, dubbing the offensive ”sheer savagery and brutality” that caused a ”deep sense of revulsion”.

”But when we say that there must be peace in the Middle East, it must be based on the acceptance that the Palestinians and the Israelis have a right to mutually exist,” he said in an interview with Ebrahim Harvey of the Mail & Guardian.

”The first step towards peace is an urgent and mutual cessation of hostilities. However, as a country, we will only act through the mandate of the United Nations Security Council and not on our own,” he added.

This comment came amid news on Friday that the UN Security Council has called for an immediate ceasefire to end the conflict in Gaza, which started two weeks ago and has so far claimed 778 Palestinian lives, Agence France-Presse reported.

The Security Council passed a resolution urging an ”immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire”, and for Israel to withdraw from Gaza after its deadly air-and-ground offensive. The United States abstained.

There was no immediate reaction from Israeli officials to the vote, but Israel opposed the idea of a binding resolution. Israel’s military commanders appeared keen to pursue the ground offensive to try to secure more gains.

For its part, Gaza’s Hamas rulers did not recognise the resolution as it had not been consulted on it, said a spokesperson for the Islamist group.

Motlanthe earlier stated the UN Security Council was partly to blame for the Gaza crisis, saying that ”if a country has powerful friends on the Security Council, they can sometimes act with impunity”.

He said the UN, and the UN Security Council in particular, needed ”urgent reform” so that it could become more representative of the world’s population.

”If you go back to the original mandate of the United Nations, you will realise that it was meant to give equal treatment and protection to even the smallest and weakest countries.”

He said the dominance of the US on the council should be dealt with ”because the veto powers enjoyed by some on this council in fact also promote selfish and sectional interests, which is contrary to the collective and principled mandate of the UN”.

US looks to Egypt’s mediation efforts
Although the US abstained from the UN resolution, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Washington backed the text and ”thought it important to see the outcome of the Egyptian mediation efforts in order to see what this resolution might have been supporting”.

”After a great deal of consideration we decided that this resolution, the goal of which we support and the objectives that we fully support, should indeed be allowed to go forward.”

”I believe in doing so, the council has provided a roadmap for a sustainable, durable peace in Gaza,” Rice noted.

Earlier in the week the African National Congress urged world leaders to do more than just verbally condemn the ongoing attacks.

This followed international Middle East envoy Tony Blair describing the situation in Gaza as ”hell”.

ANC spokesperson Jesse Duarte said it was crucial the Israeli government accept the UN resolutions, which require it to move out of Palestinian territory. She said the people of Palestine have as much a right to live as a sovereign and independent state as Israel does.

The Palestinian ambassador Ali Hamiya also condemned what he called ”the ongoing slaughter of the people of Gaza”.

”There is no political or humanitarian ground for the attacks,” he said at a press briefing at Luthuli House in Johannesburg.

He said most of those affected were innocent, with about 75% women and children.

SA Jewish Community speaks out
Meanwhile, the South African Jewish Community has said it firmly supports Israel’s activity in Gaza.

”Israel has done everything in its power to avoid the situation in which it finds itself, including the dismantling and evacuation of all Jewish settlements in Gaza over three and a half years ago,” the South African Zionist Federation said.

”Israel’s gesture of peace, however, has been met by a barrage of thousands of missiles which have rained down upon the villages, towns and cities of southern Israel.

”Hamas’s decision to fire, without provocation, approximately 80 rockets a day into Israel after the expiry of the recent ceasefire forced the government of Israel to take the necessary steps which every civilised state is required to do in order to protect its own citizens from further terror and attacks.”