Israeli diplomat removed from the African Union’s annual summit

A senior Israeli diplomat has been removed from the African Union’s annual summit in Ethiopia as a dispute over Israel’s accreditation to the bloc escalated.

A video posted on social media showed security personnel walking Ambassador Sharon Bar-Li out of the auditorium during the opening ceremony of the summit in Addis Ababa on Saturday.

Ebba Kalondo, the spokesperson for the African Union’s chairman, said the diplomat was removed because she was not the duly accredited Israeli ambassador to Ethiopia – the official who was expected.

An AU official later told AFP news agency that the diplomat who was “asked to leave” had not been invited to the meeting, with a non-transferable invitation issued only to Israel’s ambassador to the African Union, Aleli Admasu.

“It is regrettable that the individual in question would abuse such a courtesy,” the official added.

“Israel looks harshly upon the incident in which the deputy director for Africa, Ambassador Sharon Bar-Li, was removed from the African Union hall despite her status as an accredited observer with entrance badges,” the Israeli foreign ministry said.

Israel blamed the incident on South Africa and Algeria, two key nations in the 55-country bloc, saying they were holding the AU hostage and were driven by “hate”.

Israel’s foreign ministry said the charge d’affaires at South Africa’s embassy would be summoned for a reprimand.

South Africa rejected the claim, saying Israel’s application for observer status at the AU has not been decided upon by the bloc.

“Until the AU takes a decision on whether to grant Israel observer status, you cannot have the country sitting and observing,” Clayson Monyela, head of public diplomacy in South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation, told Reuters news agency.

South Africa’s governing party has historically been a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause.

Palestine already has observer status at the AU and pro-Palestinian language is typically featured in statements delivered at the AU’s annual summits.

In February last year, the AU decided to suspend the debate on whether to suspend Israel’s observer status for fear that a vote would have created an unprecedented rift in the 55-member body.

It had taken 20 years of diplomatic efforts for Israel to win observer status. It had previously held the role at the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). Still, it was long thwarted in its attempts to regain it after the OAU was disbanded in 2002 and replaced by the AU.

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