CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — South African President Cyrille Ramaphosa accused Israel of war crimes and acts “to the point of genocide” in Gaza during a virtual meeting Tuesday of leaders of developing countries, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping.
Ramaphosa also condemned Hamas for its attack on Israeli civilians that sparked the war in Gaza and said both sides were guilty of violating international law.
“The collective punishment of Palestinian civilians through Israel’s unlawful use of force is a war crime,” Ramaphosa said at the start of the meeting of leaders and senior diplomats from the BRICS bloc of countries. “The deliberate denial of medicine, fuel, food and water to the people of Gaza amounts to genocide. »
“By attacking civilians and taking hostages, Hamas also violated international law and must be held accountable for these actions,” Ramaphosa said.
Putin and Xi struck more cautious notes, calling for a ceasefire and the release of civilian hostages, but without leveling the same level of criticism of either side as Ramaphosa.
Also present at the meeting were leaders and officials from other BRICS members Brazil and India, as well as Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates, which are expected to join the bloc in January.
Ramaphosa chaired the “extraordinary meeting” and delivered the opening speech due to South Africa’s position as the current chair of BRICS.
Putin said a “humanitarian catastrophe” was unfolding in Gaza and that it was “shocking to see how surgeries are performed on children without anesthesia.” He again blamed the crisis on what he called the failure of U.S. diplomacy.
“All these events are actually a direct consequence of the American desire to monopolize the mediation functions in the Palestinian-Israeli settlement,” Putin said in a teleconference from the Kremlin. He called for a ceasefire in Gaza, the release of hostages and the evacuation of civilians from the Gaza Strip.
Putin’s comments come amid Russia’s cautious approach to the war between Israel and Hamas, which could offer it an opportunity to strengthen its role as a broker of world power. Putin proposed last month that Moscow could play a mediating role in the conflict because of its relations with Israel and the Palestinians. He said on Tuesday that the BRICS bloc could play “a key role” in seeking a political settlement.
Putin condemned the October 7 attack by Hamas militants on towns in southern Israel, which led to the Israeli offensive in Gaza, now in its seventh week, while warning Israel against his response and against the blockade of the Gaza Strip.
More than 12,700 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry in the West Bank. Authorities say another 4,000 people are missing. Around 1,200 people were killed on the Israeli side, mostly civilians, during the Hamas attack.
Russia and China are the main voices of BRICS, which have largely presented themselves in recent years as opposing the West’s perceived dominance in world affairs. But it has struggled to adopt common policies or positions on many issues due to the divergent priorities of the current five members.
The meeting came a day after China’s top diplomat hosted the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Indonesia in Beijing, the first stop on a tour of the permanent members of the UN Security Council. This underscores China’s long-standing support for the Palestinians and its growing geopolitical influence.
India, which also wants to be seen as a leader in the developing world, has long walked a tightrope between Israel and the Palestinians and historically maintains close ties with both.
South Africa has sharply criticized Israel over the Gaza war and has already filed a request with the International Criminal Court to investigate alleged war crimes. South Africa has for years compared Israel’s policies in Gaza and the West Bank with its own apartheid regime of racial segregation.
Ramaphosa called on the International Criminal Court to “urgently” prosecute those responsible for what he called war crimes on both sides and said South Africa also wanted a ceasefire and the deployment of a UN force to monitor the ceasefire. .
Later Tuesday, a large majority of South African MPs voted in favor of a motion to close the Israeli embassy and sever diplomatic ties with Israel until it agrees to a ceasefire in Gaza. Israel had recalled its ambassador for consultations before the vote.
AP coverage of the Israel-Hamas war: https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war