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Australia deploys soldiers as Middle East conflict, humanitarian crisis escalate

The conflict has left Gazans, many of whom are children, with nowhere to go.

The conflict has left Gazans, many of whom are children, with nowhere to go. Photo: AFP/Getty

As the risk of a protracted and bloody conflict looms across the region, Australia will send planes and troops to the Middle East.

In an extraordinary move cloaked in operational secrecy, two Royal Australian Air Force planes and a “significant” but undisclosed number of soldiers will be flown to an unnamed location if the escalating conflict threatens Australians in the region.

The announcement came as Foreign Minister Penny Wong said “nowhere near enough” aid was reaching the besieged territory.

Wong called for a “humanitarian pause” to the conflict to allow aid into the Palestinian enclave.

More than 700 lives were lost in Gaza over 24 hours in the deadliest day since the conflict began nearly three weeks ago.

Israel’s Ambassador to Australia Amir Maimon disputed Wong’s characterisation in a speech to the National Press Club that argued the country’s blockade and air strikes on Gaza comply with international law.

The military response was aimed at Hamas, he said, not civilians.

“According to our information and my knowledge, the humanitarian situation is fair,” he said.

The US and other nations are pushing Israel to hold off on a ground war.

Defence Minister Richard Marles said the deployment of planes would bring to three the number of Australian aircraft in the region in case citizens needed to be airlifted out.

“We hope that this is confined to Israel and Gaza but, you know, we are all watching this,” he said.

Two extra RAAF planes, a C-17 aircraft and a KC 30 tanker refueller, will fly to an undisclosed location.

Hamas hostages relay their terror

‘Punishing millions’

The Parliamentary Friends of Palestine group has urged an “immediate ceasefire” in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, citing violations of international law by both sides.

A statement released by co-chairs Labor MP Maria Vamvakinou, Nationals MP Mark Coulton and Greens Senator Janet Rice said Israel’s actions were “punishing millions” by halting the supply of water, food, fuel and electricity in Gaza and wreaking havoc on civilian infrastructure.

Don Rothwell, a professor of international law from the Australian National University, said there was evidence Israel was seeking to observe rules against the targeting of civilians.

“But the increasing intensity of the bombing and air campaign in Gaza makes it impossible to apply the principle of distinction between Hamas fighters and civilians,” he said.

Eight trucks carrying water, food, and medicine entered Gaza from Egypt overnight.

According to UN agencies, the current deliveries need to be increased more than 20-fold to adequately meet the needs of Gaza’s more than two million residents.

Meanwhile, Israel’s envoy to the United Nations called for the resignation of secretary-general António Guterres for making “shocking” remarks in which he implied that the October 7 attack was spurred by the “suffocating occupation” of Palestinian territories.

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