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Palestinians walk amid the rubble of buildings destroyed during an Israeli strike on Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on Nov. 20.MAHMUD HAMS/Getty Images

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa accused Israel of war crimes and acts “tantamout to genocide” in Gaza during a virtual meeting Tuesday of leaders of developing countries, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping

Ramaphosa also condemned Hamas for its attack on Israeli civilians that sparked the war in Gaza and said both sides were guilty of violating international law.

“The collective punishment of Palestinian civilians through the unlawful use of force by Israel is a war crime,” Ramaphosa said at the start of the meeting of leaders and top diplomats from the BRICS bloc of countries. “The deliberate denial of medicine, fuel, food and water to the residents of Gaza is tantamount to genocide.”

“In its attacks on civilians and by taking hostages, Hamas has also violated international law and must be held accountable for these actions,” Ramaphosa said.

Putin and Xi struck more cautious notes, calling for a ceasefire and the release of civilian hostages but not launching the same level of criticism of either side as Ramaphosa.

Also joining the meeting were leaders and officials from fellow BRICS members Brazil and India, and from Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates, which are set to join the bloc in January.

Ramaphosa chaired the “extraordinary meeting” and made the opening remarks because of South Africa’s position as current chair of BRICS.

Putin said there was a “humanitarian catastrophe” unfolding in Gaza and it was “shocking to watch how surgeries are performed on children without anesthesia.” He again blamed the crisis on what he called failed diplomacy by the United States.

“All these events, in fact, are a direct consequence of the U.S. desire to monopolize mediation functions in the Palestinian-Israeli settlement,” Putin said while appearing on teleconference from the Kremlin. He called for a ceasefire in Gaza, the freeing of hostages and the evacuation of civilians from the Gaza Strip.

Putin’s comments were in line with Russia’s careful approach to the Israel-Hamas war, which may present an opportunity for it to advance its role as a global power broker. Putin proposed last month that Moscow could mediate in the conflict due to its relationships with both Israel and the Palestinians. He said Tuesday that the BRICS bloc could play “a key role” in finding a political settlement.

Putin has condemned the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants on towns in southern Israel that led to Israel’s offensive in Gaza, now in its seventh week, while warning Israel over its response and against blockading the Gaza Strip.

More than 12,700 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry in the West Bank. Officials there say another 4,000 are missing. Around 1,200 people have been killed on the Israeli side, mainly civilians during the Hamas attack.

Russia and China are leading voices in BRICS, which has largely cast itself in recent years as standing against the perceived dominance of the West in global affairs. But it has struggled to adopt united policies or positions on many issues because of the differing priorities of the five current members.

The meeting came a day after China’s top diplomat hosted the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Indonesia in Beijing, their first stop on a tour of U.N. Security Council permanent members. That underlined China’s longstanding support for the Palestinians and its growing geopolitical influence.

India, which also wants to be seen as a leader of the developing world, has long walked a tightrope between Israel and the Palestinians and historically has close ties to both.

South Africa has been fiercely critical of Israel over the war in Gaza and had already filed a request with the International Criminal Court to investigate it over alleged war crimes. South Africa has for years compared Israel’s policies in Gaza and the West Bank with its own past apartheid regime of racial segregation.

Ramaphosa called for the International Criminal Court to “urgently” initiate prosecutions against those responsible for what he termed war crimes on both sides and said South Africa also wants to see a ceasefire and the deployment of a U.N. force to monitor the ceasefire.

Also on Tuesday, a majority of South African lawmakers on Tuesday voted in favour of a motion calling for the closure of the Israeli embassy and the cutting of diplomatic ties until Israel agrees to a ceasefire in Gaza.

The vote on the motion supported by the ruling African National Congress party came as President Cyril Ramaphosa in a meeting with other world leaders accused Israel of committing genocide in Gaza with its military offensive in the besieged territory in search of its Hamas militant rulers.

The motion tabled by the opposition party Economic Freedom Fighters received the support of 248 parliament members while 91 lawmakers opposed it.

The vote came after Israel’s foreign ministry said it had recalled its ambassador to South Africa, Eliav Belotserkovsky, back to Jerusalem “for consultations.”

The two countries’ diplomatic relations have witnessed a rise in tensions over the war in Gaza. Ramaphosa previously said his country believes Israel is committing war crimes in Gaza, where thousands of Palestinians have been killed.

South Africa announced last week that it had referred what it called Israel’s “genocide” in Gaza to the International Criminal Court for an investigation. Its cabinet has called on the ICC to issue an arrest warrant against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Earlier this month, South Africa recalled its ambassador to Israel and withdrew all its diplomatic staff.

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