Stop ‘disturbing rhetoric’ on Middle East, pleads Wong

Israel tank accidentally fires at Egypt border

Foreign Minister Penny Wong has cautioned Australia’s political and community leaders to show restraint, as tensions rise ahead of a likely ground invasion of Gaza by Israeli forces.

“We have seen some disturbing rhetoric in recent weeks,” Wong told a Senate estimates hearing on Monday.

“We are seeing a human tragedy, and I would observe that how all of us as political leaders approach these issues does have an impact on the unity of our country.

“Australians are deeply distressed, and rightly so, and this distress is felt most acutely in our Jewish community and our Palestinian community.”

Wong said the federal government and all MPs should strive for unity and social cohesion as the conflict played out.

“I ask all parliamentarians when we speak let us speak with respect and understanding,” she said.

“We all join in rejecting hatred, condemning prejudice and discrimination in all its forms.”

The Home Affairs Department remains concerned about the impacts on social cohesion in Australia.

“We’re working extraordinarily hard to try and understand where those things might play out and what we can do to respond,” acting secretary Stephanie Foster said.

The first priority for the department when it found out about the attack was to check the safety of three locally engaged staff in Israel as well as others in the region.

One staff member travelling through the region was helped to return to a regional post.

The department then considered how it could help the government “supporting social cohesion in Australia as the impacts of the attacks played out”.

Labor frontbencher Murray Watt said every civilian life lost in the violence between Israel and Hamas was a tragedy, regardless of which side of the border they came from.

Israel had a right to defend itself but any further civilian deaths must be stopped, he said.

“There’s no difference between an Israeli life and a Palestinian life if we’re talking about innocent civilians,” Watt said.

“We condemn Hamas for taking those innocent Israeli lives and we want to make sure that no more civilians are lost in Palestine in unfair circumstances.”

The Islamist group, considered a terrorist organisation by the Australian government, attacked Israel on October 7, killing more than 1400 people and taking more than 150 hostages.

Tel Aviv has retaliated by laying siege to the 2.3 million people living in Gaza and unleashing a bombing campaign that has left more than 4700 dead, another 14,000 wounded and roughly one million displaced.

It also enacted a blockage on fuel and water, leaving Gazans with no power and dwindling supplies.

Former prime minister and ambassador to the US Kevin Rudd said the Middle East remained a core part of Australia’s concerns.

“We are concerned about the impact of Hamas on the Palestinian people who live in Gaza, just as we’re concerned about proper humanitarian support for those people in Gaza, as well as getting Australian nationals out,” he told the ABC on Monday.

More than 1800 Australians have left Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories since October 7, some on government repatriation flights.

The government is also helping 77 Australians, permanent residents and immediate family members in Gaza.

24-hour Consular Emergency Centre: +61 2 6261 3305 (from overseas) or 1300 555 135 (from within Australia)


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