CAPE TOWN, Aug. 17 (Xinhua) -- South Africa is concerned about "high-profile" visits to Israel by government institutions as such visits would give legitimacy to Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories, a senior official said Friday.
"We remain steadfast in our conviction that the Palestinian struggle is a legitimate struggle for self-determination, justice and freedom and must be supported," Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Ebrahim Ebrahim said in a statement.
Ebrahim was responding to criticisms about his earlier remarks that the government discouraged its citizens from visiting Israel, in view of the Jewish state's continued occupation of the Palestinian territories.
Continued visits to Israel will "send a message that what is happening to the Palestinians is being supported," he said Tuesday in Pretoria.
But in Friday's statement, Ebrahim said: "It's the democratic right of every South African to visit any country of their choice and have freedom of movement and association."
The issue was not about whether or not people should boycott Israel but about whether a resolution could be reached to end Israel's occupation of the Palestinian land, he said.
"There has to be a resolution. I think that whether people go to Israel or not is neither here nor there but the problem arises because of the inability of the Israeli government to resolve or grant the Palestinian people ... an independent state," Ebrahim said.
The post-apartheid South African government has been a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause. The government says it only recognizes the pre-1967 borders of Israel, not the West Bank and the Gaza Strip which Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East War.
"South Africa deplores any actions that do not assist the international community's quest for a permanent solution to the Israeli-Palestinian question," Ebrahim said.