South Africa on Wednesday strongly opposed last week’s “unilateral” decision by the African Union Commission to grant Israel official observer status in the continental organization.

In a sharp statement, the continental power, which last year presided over the AU’s annual rotation, said it was “appalled by the unfair and unjust decision of the AU Commission to grant Israel observer status in the African Union.”

The AU granted Israel observer status Thursday, which both sides expect will allow Israel to further assist the AU in combating the coronavirus pandemic and terrorism on the continent.

“The decision to grant Israel observer status is even more shocking in a year when the oppressed people of Palestine have been subjected to devastating bombings and continued illegal settlements in the land,” the South African foreign ministry said, calling the move “inexplicable” and “incomprehensible.”

South Africa supports the cause of Palestine, with which it established formal diplomatic relations in 1995, a year after the abolition of apartheid, and in 2019 it downgraded its embassy status in Tel Aviv.

The Palestinian territories already have observer status in the AU, and pro-Palestinian rhetoric is usually present in statements made at annual AU summits.

The AU Commission took “a unilateral decision without consulting” its members, according to South Africa.

South Africa will ask Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairman of the AU Commission, to inform member states of the decision and hopes that the issue will be discussed at the level of heads of state and government.

“South Africa firmly believes that until Israel is ready to negotiate a peace plan without preconditions, it should not have observer status at the AU,” it said.

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