South Africa chaired BRICS' extraordinary summit on Gaza crisis on November 21, 2023. / Photo: AFP

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa accused Israel of war crimes and "genocide" in Gaza, as he chaired an extraordinary summit of the BRICS group of nations on Tuesday.

Pretoria is hosting a virtual meeting of BRICS – a group of major emerging economies that includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – aimed at drawing up a common response to the Israel-Hamas conflict.

"The collective punishment of Palestinian civilians through the unlawful use of force by Israel is a war crime. The deliberate denial of medicine, fuel, food and water to the residents of Gaza is tantamount to genocide," Ramaphosa said.

Fighting has raged in Gaza after Hamas fighters launched an offensive on Israel on October 7.

Relentless bombing

In retaliation, Israel launched a relentless bombing campaign and ground offensive in Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas.

According to Hamas, the war has killed more than 13,300 people, thousands of them children.

On Tuesday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said a truce agreement with Israel was in sight, with mediator Qatar adding negotiations to free hostages seized by the Palestinian group were at their "closest point" to a deal.

Addressing the BRICS summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping, called for an "international peace conference" saying there could be "no sustainable peace and security in the Middle East without a just solution to the question of Palestine."

Two-state solution

China has historically been sympathetic to the Palestinians and supportive of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

And it has this year sought to play a greater role in the Middle East, facilitating a historic rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran and sending an envoy to the region to push for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict.

BRICS, an acronym for its member countries, sees itself as a counterweight to the US and Western-led global order.

Ramaphosa called for an "immediate and comprehensive ceasefire" and the deployment of a UN force "to monitor the cessation of hostilities and protect civilians."

'Clarion call'

He also urged all countries "to desist from fuelling" the conflict and stop supplying weapons to the warring parties.

"As individual countries, we have demonstrated our grave concern at the death and destruction in Gaza," he told the summit.

"Let this meeting stand as a clarion call for us to combine our efforts and strengthen our actions to end this historical injustice."

South Africa has long been a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause, with the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party often linking it to its own struggle against apartheid.

Diplomats recalled

Earlier this month, Pretoria recalled all its diplomats from Israel and last week it joined four other nations in calling for an International Criminal Court investigation into the conflict.

On Monday, Israel's foreign ministry said it had also recalled its ambassador to Pretoria for consultations.

The summit came as a delegation of foreign ministers of the Palestinian Authority, Indonesia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are in Beijing this week for talks aimed at a "de-escalation" of the conflict.

The BRICS group is expected to issue a joint statement after the talks, which are being attended also by Russia's Vladimir Putin, Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and India's foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

Representatives from Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates – countries that are all due to join the group in January 2024 – were also invited to the talks.