Foreign Minister Penny Wong sanctions Iran, as Middle East edges towards ‘abyss’

Senator Wong called the scenes from the Gaza City hospital “deeply distressing”.

Senator Wong called the scenes from the Gaza City hospital “deeply distressing”. Photo: Getty

US President Joe Biden has shown solidarity with Israel and said a hospital blast that killed nearly 500 people in Gaza was fired by “the other team”.

Meeting with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday (AEDT), Biden said he was “deeply saddened and outraged” by the explosion at Al-Ahli al-Arabi hospital on Tuesday evening (local time).

“And, based on what I’ve seen, it appears as though it was done by the other team, not you,” the president said. “But there’s a lot of people out there not sure, so we’ve got a lot, we’ve got to overcome a lot of things.”

Palestinian officials blamed an Israeli air strike for the fireball that engulfed the hospital where patients were being treated and displaced Palestinians were sheltering.

Israel said the blast was caused by a failed rocket launch by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group, which denied blame.

Biden later said his comment was based on information he had been shown by the US Department of Defence, without elaborating further.

Biden’s trip to the Middle East was designed to calm the region.

But after the hospital blast, Jordan cancelled the planned Amman summit where Biden had been due to meet the leaders of Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority.

Hundreds killed after rocket hits Gaza hospital

Australia sanctions Iran

As the escalating crisis in Israel drives political tensions at home, there is international concern about a broader conflict involving Iranian clients in the Middle East.

Tehran has rejected reports it had any hand in the terrorist attacks on southern Israel nearly a fortnight ago that killed 1400 Israelis, mostly civilians.

Nor has the US seen any evidence of its direct involvement.

But the attack has fuelled tensions across the region where Tehran’s influence is strong and likely to grow stronger as the fallout widens.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong imposed sanctions on dozens of Iranian individuals and organisations involved in the country’s contentious nuclear program.

Australia will adopt renewed and expanded United Nations sanctions to pressure Iran to uphold its obligations and allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to verify its nuclear program is being used for peaceful purposes.

“Iran’s proliferation of ballistic and cruise missiles raises tensions in an already volatile region,” Senator Wong said.

“Iran must cease its escalatory actions in its nuclear program and recommit to full compliance.”

The 2015 program of UN sanctions and travel bans will now apply under Australian regulations to 22 Iranian nationals and 68 organisations.

The IAEA this week said about one-third of its inspectors had been expelled from Iran, leading the UN watchdog to warn the international community to act to prevent it from becoming the next North Korea.

Greens condemn Israel

In the Senate on Wednesday, the Greens unsuccessfully moved a motion to condemn “war crimes perpetrated by the state of Israel, including the bombing of Palestinian civilians”.

Wong called the scenes from the Gaza City hospital “deeply distressing”.

“We condemn any indiscriminate attacks and targeting of civilian infrastructure, including hospitals,” Wong said.

Wong said she was working with regional partners to open a humanitarian corridor at the Rafah crossing into Egypt to secure the safe passage of dual nationals from Gaza.

Gaza, where 2.3 million Palestinians live under Hamas control, has been hit by Israeli air strikes and artillery attacks for more than a week.

Hamas receives financial aid and other support from Iran, alongside a range of other sponsors.

Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement on Tuesday called for a “day of rage” to condemn the hospital bombing.

Threat conflict will spread

“The whole region is on the brink of falling into the abyss,” the King of Jordan told a press conference in Berlin.

“The threat that this conflict spreads is real; the costs are too high for everyone.”

US President Joe Biden arrived in Israel on Wednesday.

Biden should tell Israel’s leaders that the cost of deploying ground troops in response to the recent terrorist attack would be too high, said Amin Saikal, an Emeritus Professor of Middle Eastern Studies from the Australian National University.

“The issue of the Palestinian cause will survive, and the struggle of the Palestinians for freedom and independence will survive,” Saikal said.

“But the amount of misery which is caused at the moment is going to damage the relationship not only between Palestinians and the Israelis, and Palestinians [and] international supporters of Israel, but also it could easily inflame many extremist groups.”

In Israel, Biden said he was “deeply saddened” by the hospital “explosion” but said it was apparently the work of Israel’s opponents.

Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia had earlier blamed Israel.

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