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‘Positive engagement’ with Israel over aid worker death

Australia is welcoming Israel's co-operation with an investigation into the killing of aid workers but is dodging questions over suspected war crimes in Gaza.

Australia is welcoming Israel's co-operation with an investigation into the killing of aid workers but is dodging questions over suspected war crimes in Gaza. Photo: AAP

The Australian government has welcomed “positive engagements” with Israel over an investigation into the killing of an aid worker as questions are raised about the prime minister’s response to alleged war crimes.

Retired air chief marshal Mark Binskin travelled to Israel in early May after being appointed as Australia’s special advisor on Tel Aviv’s investigation into the death of Australian aid worker Zomi Frankcom and six World Central Kitchen colleagues.

An Israeli airstrike killed the aid workers in early April in what the Israel Defence Force called a misidentification in the fog of war.

“The Australian government welcomes Israel’s positive engagement with ACM Binskin to date,” a Foreign Affairs Department spokesperson told AAP in a statement.

“The government has made clear to Israel its expectation of a full, thorough and transparent investigation, and demanded full accountability.”

Binskin will provide his report to the foreign minister “in due course”.

It comes as the government defended the International Criminal Court despite criticism from the opposition and Jewish groups after the chief prosecutor announced he’d seek warrants for Israel’s prime minister.

Chief prosecutor Karim Khan has sought arrest warrants for Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, saying there were reasonable grounds to suspect their involvement in possible war crimes.

They included starvation of civilians and intentionally directing attacks against civilians.

At the same time, Khan sought warrants for three Hamas commanders, saying there were also reasonable grounds to suspect war crimes and crimes against humanity including murder, sexual violence and hostage-taking.

Seeking the warrants simultaneously created a false equivalence between the actions of Israel and Hamas, opposition foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham said.

“We utterly, utterly reject there being any sense of equivalence between Hamas and the State of Israel,” he told ABC radio on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and the Department of Foreign Affairs said it would be inappropriate to comment on a matter before the court.

“Australia respects the ICC and the important role it has in upholding international law,” a department spokesperson said.

“There is no equivalence between Israel and Hamas. Hamas is a terrorist organisation.

“Australia has been clear and unequivocal in our condemnation of its terrorist actions.”

Australia was focused on a humanitarian ceasefire, the release of hostages and increased aid to Gaza, Albanese said.

But Senator Birmingham accused the prime minister of “wilful inconsistency”.

“Our prime minister … said he wouldn’t comment on a matter before the courts or a matter before international courts in the very same press conference where he commented on Julian Assange’s case before British courts,” he said.

He questioned the need for the court to issue a warrant when its mandate was to investigate serious crimes “where there are not processes within states to undertake appropriate investigations”.

“We have seen tragic instances such as the death of humanitarian workers, which should not have occurred but Israel also has processes to investigate those,” he said.

Despite the large number of civilian casualties in Gaza, “we do have to recognise that the objectives are profoundly different” between Israel and Hamas,” Senator Birmingham said, pointing to the threat of Hamas on Israel’s doorstep.

Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, killing 1200 people and taking more than 200 hostages, according to Israel, while its counter-offence in Gaza has since killed 35,000 people and injured about 77,000, the local health ministry tallied.

– AAP

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