Hamas welcomed at 10th anniversary of Mandela's death at memorial in Johannesburg

DEC 5, 2023 LISTEN

Senior Hamas officials joined the family of Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg on Tuesday to mark the 10th anniversary of his death and cast the spotlight on the bitter conflict in Gaza.

Mandela, who died aged 95 in 2013, made a Palestinian state one of his main international causes when he became South Africa's first black president in 1994.

And Hamas representatives were among Palestinian guests who laid a wreath when the Mandela family paid tribute at a giant statue of the anti-apartheid icon.

South Africa has strongly condemned Israel's response to the unprecedented 7 October Hamas attacks that unleashed a war in which thousands have died.

Mandela's legacy for Palestine

Mandela's grandson, national assembly member Mandla Mandela, helped organise a two-day conference on the Palestinian-Israel conflict before the wreath-laying at the Union Buildings.

Basem Naim, a former Hamas health minister in Gaza, and Khaled Qaddoumi, the militant group's representative in Iran, were among Palestinians to visit for the conference and anniversary.

"We were waiting to gain first-hand experience of the daily atrocities that are being carried out in Gaza," Mandla Mandela told national broadcaster SABC.

"It was a real experience for them to be in South Africa and learn from our experience as we had to face one of the most brutal apartheid regimes on the continent and we were able to defeat it."

He said his grandfather considered a Palestinian state "the great moral issue of our time" and added: "We are carrying on where he left off."

Mandla Mandela is part of the ruling African National Congress which last month backed a national assembly motion calling for the closure of the Israeli embassy and for a suspension of diplomatic ties in protest at the war.

South Africa has also officially called on the International Criminal Court to investigate what President Cyril Ramaphosa has called Israel's "war crimes" in Gaza.

Israel, which has rejected comparisons between its conflict and apartheid, did not send a senior leader to Mandela's funeral in 2013.  

Israel expands offensive into southern Gaza

This comes as Israeli forces launched their long-awaited storm of the main city in the southern Gaza Strip on Tuesday, where hospitals were overrun with scores of Palestinian dead and wounded.

In what appeared to be the biggest ground assault since a truce collapsed last week, residents said Israeli tanks had entered the eastern parts of Khan Younis for the first time, crossing from the Israeli border fence and advancing west.

After days of ordering residents to flee the area, Israeli forces dropped new leaflets on Tuesday with instructions to stay inside shelters during the assault.

The Israelis, who seized the northern half of Gaza last month before pausing for the week-long truce, say they are now extending their ground campaign to the rest of the enclave as they try to annihilate its Hamas rulers.

Meanwhile, Washington has urged Israel to do more to reduce harm to civilians in the next phase of the Gaza war. 

Israel's bombardment has driven 80% of Gaza's 2.3 million residents from their homes, most fleeing south.

Since the truce collapsed, Israel has been posting an online map to tell Gazans which parts of the enclave to evacuate.

Gazans say there is no safe place left to go, with remaining towns and shelters already overwhelmed.

(With wires)