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South African ambassador returns to Israel

South Africa's Ambassador to Israel Sisa Ngombane
South Africa's Ambassador to Israel, Sisa Ngombane

The South African ambassador returned to Israel this weekend, four months after he was recalled in protest at Israel’s killing of Palestinian protesters in the Gaza Strip. According to Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon, Ambassador Sisa Ngombane arrived back in Israel “a few days ago.” Israel was informed of the decision in a letter from the South African Embassy in Tel Aviv, in which it presented its compliments to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the Times of Israel reported.

Ngombane was recalled from Israel in May in protest against Israel’s killing of more than 150 Palestinian protesters during the Great March of Return demonstrations in the besieged Gaza Strip. At the time, Pretoria did not give a timescale for his return, saying the move would remain in place “until further notice.” In July, International Relations Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said that she was “very glad” to have made the decision to recall Ngombane and vowed not to return him until “we are making headway” to resolve the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The move comes just a few days after the newly-elected president of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), Zingiswa Losi, called on the government in Pretoria to downgrade its relations with Israel. Losi praised the May decision to recall the ambassador but called on the government to go further by downgrading the South African Embassy to a liaison office. Losi’s statement was welcomed by Palestinian officials, with Hamas spokesperson Hazem Kasim stating, “We also call on the South African government to heed the call from the ruling party’s members and to downgrade its diplomatic links with the Zionist apartheid state.”

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South Africa has a long history of support for the Palestinian cause and has been a vocal advocate of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Numerous churches and universities in the country have backed a cultural and economic boycott of Israeli organisations. In August, a South African duo decided to pull out of Israel’s Meteor arts festival after they were asked to reconsider their decision to perform there by BDS South Africa. The movement thanked “[the musicians] for both their willingness to engage and their decision to not perform in Israel.”

Pretoria was not the only government to sever diplomatic relations with Israel in the wake of the Great March protests and opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem in May. Turkey also cut ties with the Zionist state, asking Israeli Ambassador Eitan Naeh to leave the country. In retaliation, Turkey’s consul general in Jerusalem, Gurcan Turkoglu, was summoned by the Israeli Foreign Ministry and asked to leave. Last week, it emerged that Turkish and Israeli delegations held a secret meeting in the United Arab Emirates to discuss a revival of diplomatic relations. If the talks are successful, both countries are expected to return their respective ambassadors in early October, after the Jewish holiday season draws to a close.

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