South Africa refers Israel to The Hague over Gaza 'war crimes'

Two women hold a poster during their protest against Israel's military campaign in Gaza and to show their support to the Palestinian people on July 25, 2014, in the center of Ala-Too Square in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. [AFP]

South Africa has requested that the International Criminal Court in The Hague investigate alleged Israeli war crimes in its war with Hamas. President Cyril Ramaphosa made the announcement while on a state visit to Qatar, where he said he had spoken to the country's ruler about the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza.

"We both abhorred what is happening right now in Gaza, which has now turned into a concentration camp where genocide is taking place," he said.

Ramaphosa said South Africa did not condone the actions taken by Hamas when the group launched a deadly attack on Israel last month killing more than 1,200 people and taking 240 hostages. However, he criticized the Israeli response, saying people were "dying like flies" in Gaza's besieged hospitals.

"As South Africa, we have accordingly, together with many other countries in the world, saw fit to refer this whole Israeli government action to the International Criminal Court," he said.

Contacted by VOA, Israeli Ambassador Eliav Belotsercovsky would not comment.

Mia Swart, a visiting professor at Witwatersrand University’s Law School specializing in international law, explained what’s likely to happen now.

"The ICC would most probably have to investigate what is being claimed here. It would be a drawn-out process," she said.

Israel has always maintained it is acting in self-defense. Earlier this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was taking "extraordinary efforts" to minimize civilian casualties.

South Africa is one of the most vocal international supporters of Palestinians. The governing African National Congress party has often drawn what it says are parallels between Black South Africans' struggle against the racist white apartheid regime and the situation in the Middle East.

Party spokesperson Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri said Thursday they would support an opposition motion in parliament calling for the closure of the Israeli Embassy in Pretoria.

"Given the current atrocities in occupied Palestine, the ANC will agree to a parliamentary motion which calls upon the government to close the Israeli Embassy in South Africa and suspend all diplomatic relations with Israel," she said.

There have been large pro-Palestinian protests in South African cities, as well as a smaller pro-Israel march that was disrupted by counter-protesters.

The Jewish Board of Deputies, a group representing the Jewish community in South Africa, says there has been a massive rise in antisemitism in the country since the outbreak of the conflict.