By Hassan Isilow
JOHANNESBURG - South African President Jacob Zuma told his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas that his country remains a committed friend of the Palestinian people.
Zuma hosted Abbas in Cape Town during a working visit aimed at strengthening socio-political ties and economic relations between the two countries, the presidency said in a statement Wednesday night.
“It is my great pleasure to welcome you again to our shores, and South Africa will continue to be a liberated zone and a friend of the Palestinian people,” Zuma said.
The two leaders held bilateral talks on a broad range of issues including the current initiatives aimed at resolving the Israeli-Palestine standoff, in particular the postponed Paris Middle East conference that was scheduled for the end of May.
Abbas also briefed Zuma on efforts at intra-Palestinian reconciliation and progress towards elections and the formation of a government of national unity.
Zuma said his government was very pleased to receive Abbas because the visit enabled them to get a better understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian situation and particularly the Paris Middle East initiative.
The South African leader further welcomed a report by Abbas that there was some progress towards Palestinian elections and a national unity government.
Zuma said Abbas’ visit takes place at a time of heightened tension between Palestinians and Israelis and increased construction of illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian lands.
He said there was also escalating frustration among Palestinians due to a lack of visible progress on the Middle East peace process.
Zuma said South Africa and Palestine enjoy cordial relations that date back to the days of the anti-Apartheid struggle.
“South Africa recognized the state of Palestine in 1995 and was among the more than 200 states that voted for the hoisting of the Palestinian national flag at UN headquarters,” he said.
Last month Johannesburg Mayor Parks Tau unveiled a huge statue of President Nelson Mandela in the Palestinian city of Ramallah. The statue was donated by the city of Johannesburg as a sign of friendship between the two cities.
Since 1995, South Africa and Palestine have signed a number of bilateral agreements anchored in the Joint Commission of Co-operation founded in 1995.
President Abbas has visited South Africa twice over the last two years, for a state visit in 2014 and an African Union Summit in 2015.