South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said Monday that her country had summoned diplomats from Israel to assess its relationship with it amid the rising civilian death toll in Israel's ongoing assault on the Gaza Strip.
Pandor described the return of diplomats as a "normal practice" and said the recall was aimed at determining "whether there is any possibility of providing assistance and whether the existing relationship is already capable of continuing in all respects".
South Africa has no ambassador to Israel, and Pretoria has long been a champion of Middle East peace and has supported the Palestinians, likening their plight to its plight under apartheid that ended in 1994.
Pandor added that her country was "deeply concerned about the continued killing of children and innocent civilians" in the Palestinian territories.
"We believe that the nature of Israel's response has become collective punishment," she said, adding that her country would continue to call for a comprehensive ceasefire.
Israel's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the South African government's decision to recall its diplomatic staff was a victory for the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), which it described as a terrorist.
She added that Israel expects South Africa to denounce Hamas and "respect Israel's right to defend itself."
A group of countries - including Colombia, Bolivia, Chile and Honduras - announced the withdrawal of their ambassadors from Israel for consultations because of its ongoing aggression on Gaza.
For the 32nd day of the war on Gaza, Israel intensified its raids on the Strip, targeting residential neighborhoods, vital facilities and hospitals, leading to the death of more than 10,<> so far, most of them women and children, amid widespread Arab and international condemnation.
Meanwhile, the resistance factions are confronting the attempts of the occupation army to penetrate into the Gaza Strip and inflicted heavy losses in its ranks, in addition to more than 1400,240 Israeli deaths and <> prisoners in the Al-Aqsa Flood operation, which began on the seventh of last October.