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South Africa's foreign minister says citizens fighting with Israeli forces in Gaza will be arrested

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — South Africa's foreign minister says her country's citizens who fight in the Israeli armed forces or alongside them in Gaza will be arrested when they return home, deepening the rift between the nations after South Africa lay accusations of genocide against Israel at the United Nations' top court.

Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor made the comment earlier this week at a Palestinian solidarity event attended by officials from South Africa's ruling African National Congress party.

She also encouraged people to protest outside the embassies of what she called the “five primary supporters” of Israel and its military action in Gaza. She didn’t name them but almost certainly was referring to the United States, the U.K. and Germany among others.

“I have already issued a statement alerting those who are South African and are fighting alongside or in the Israeli Defense Forces: We are ready. When you come home, we are going to arrest you,” Pandor said, to rapturous applause from the audience.

In December, the foreign ministry said that the South African government was concerned that some of its citizens or permanent residents had joined the IDF to fight in Gaza and warned that they could face prosecution if they hadn't been granted permission to do so under South Africa's arms control laws.

Those with dual South African-Israeli citizenship could be stripped of their South African citizenship, the foreign ministry said.

Pandor's comments represented an apparent hardening of the government's stance.

It's not clear how many South African citizens have fought for Israel during the current war in Gaza. South Africa has a significant Jewish population of around 70,000 people.

The South African government was a vocal supporter of the Palestinian people and a critic of Israel even before the current war.

The issue is close to the ruling ANC party and many South Africans, who for years have compared Israel's policies against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank with the treatment of non-whites in South Africa during its apartheid era of forced racial segregation and oppression.

Israel denies South Africa's charge that it has enforced a form of apartheid on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and strongly rejects the charge by South Africa in the International Court of Justice that it is committing genocide in Gaza. That case may take years for a verdict.

Israel has replied by accusing South Africa of being a representative of the Hamas militant group that attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 Israelis and taking 250 hostages back to Gaza, sparking the war.

Israel's assault on Gaza has killed over 31,000 Palestinians, driven most of the coastal enclave's 2.3 million people from their homes and caused a humanitarian disaster, with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians on the brink of starvation.

Pandor asked audience members at the Palestinian solidary event this week to make posters with the words "Stop Genocide" and protest outside the embassies of what she called the “five primary supporters” of Israel.

“Don’t only come to this dinner. Be visible in the support of the people of Palestine," she said.

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AP Africa news: https://apnews.com/hub/africa