South African-Israeli Rift Widens Over Hamas Visit With President Zuma

Israel reprimands South African envoy over invitation to Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Meshal.

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Hamas leader Khaled Meshal speaking during a news conference in Doha, Qatar, September 7, 2015.Credit: Reuters

Already high diplomatic tensions between Israel and South Africa have been raised a notch in the wake of the arrival of Hamas leader Khaled Meshal on Sunday. Meshal, making his first trip to South Africa, was invited to participate in a conference held by the ruling party, the ANC, in Johannesburg, where he is expected to meet with South African President Jacob Zuma.

Foreign Ministry officials in Jerusalem expressed surprise to hear about Meshal's arrival and his meeting with Zuma, the first such meeting between the political bureau chief of Hamas and the leader of a non-Muslim country. While Meshal has met with the likes of Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iran's Ali Khamenei, other countries like Russia and Norway have sent their foreign ministers to meet with Meshal.

A senior Foreign Ministry official remarked that in the wake of Meshal's visit, the head of the ministry's Africa branch, Yoram Elron, called in the deputy ambassador of South Africa to Israel for a meeting to issue a harsh reprimand. Elron stressed in the meeting that Israel views Meshal's visit to Johannesburg as "an unfriendly act" by South Africa.

"Meshal's invitation and the meeting with him are a scandal and a tailwind for terror," Elron told the South African diplomat.

Emanuel Nahshon, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said that Israel "is furious and shocked" by Meshal's arrival in South Africa.

"His invitation callously and rudely ignores the international community's position, which sees Hamas as a terror organization," said Nahshon. The Israeli ambassador in Pretoria, Arthur Lenk, is expected to submit an official protest to South Africa's foreign ministry, according to Nahshon, and to demand cancelling Meshal's visit and meeting with Zuma.

The ANC issued a statement on Saturday that the talks with Meshal would deal with a "join vision of self-determination for the Palestinian people and an independent state free of Israeli occupation."

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