Zuma calls for Middle East ceasefire

Zuma called on the IDF and Hamas to end all forms of violence against each other.

President Jacob Zuma. Picture: GCIS.

CAPE TOWN - President Jacob Zuma says there will never be a military solution to the conflict in the Middle East and has urged all parties to negotiate a ceasefire.

The president addressed Parliament on Wednesday afternoon, calling on the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and Hamas to end all forms of violence against one another.

He said South Africa joined United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moo in calling for an immediate ceasefire on all sides and the resumption of humanitarian aid.

"The only lifeline for the people of Gaza is their brothers and sisters in Egypt. This isn't the time to apportion blame but to focus on the needy and dying."

Democratic Alliance Parliamentary Leader Mmusi Maimane echoed Zuma's call.

"In fact, we are concerned that what is happening in Gaza cannot be considered by any reasonable person to be a commensurate response."

Israel launched its offensive on 8 July to halt missile salvoes by Hamas and its allies, struggling under the weight of an Israeli-Egyptian economic blockade and angered by a crackdown on their supporters in the nearby occupied West Bank.

After failing to halt the militant barrage through days of aerial bombardment, Israel sent ground troops into the Gaza Strip last Thursday, looking to knock out Hamas's missile stores and destroy a vast, underground network of tunnels.


Israeli forces pounded Gaza on Wednesday, meeting stiff resistance from Hamas Islamists and sending thousands of residents fleeing, as US Secretary of State John Kerry said on a visit to Israel ceasefire talks had made some progress.

In a blow to Israel's economy and a public relations coup for Hamas, US and European air carriers halted flights to the Jewish state citing concern over a militant rocket from Gaza that hit a house near Ben Gurion airport. Israel urged a re-think, saying its air space was safe.

Adding to pressure on Israel, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on Wednesday there was "a strong possibility" that it was committing war crimes in Gaza, where 645 Palestinians have died in the fighting, mostly civilians.

Israel denied the suggestion, stepping up the war of words and accusing Hamas of using fellow Gazans as human shields.

Making an unannounced, one-day visit, Kerry was due to see Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Ki-moon, signalling an intensification of efforts to end the bloodshed.

"We have certainly made some steps forward. There is still work to be done," Kerry said shortly after arriving.

"We are meeting resistance around the tunnels ... they are constantly trying to attack us around and in the tunnels. That is the trend," Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said on Wednesday.