Foreign Minister Penny Wong calls on Israel to halt hospital strikes

Foreign Minister Penny Wong has implored Israel to stop attacks on health facilities in Gaza after several hospitals were directly hit in a series of devastating air strikes.

Australia’s concerns echo a broader international outcry and calls to uphold humanitarian law as a war on track to be the bloodiest in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict entered its sixth week.

On Sunday (local time), Gaza’s biggest hospital Al Shifa and another major one, Al-Quds, said they were suspending operations, while a Palestinian official said Hamas had suspended hostage negotiations because of the way Israel had handled Shifa hospital.

A plastic surgeon in Shifa hospital said bombing of the building housing incubators had forced them to line up premature babies on ordinary beds, using the little power available to turn the air conditioning to warm.

Israel’s chief military spokesperson, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, said the military would help evacuate babies from Shifa.

But Gaza health ministry spokesperson Ashraf Al-Qidra, inside the hospital, said they had not been told how to get the babies to safety. He said that of 45 babies in total, three had already died.

Israel says Hamas has placed command centres under and near the hospitals and it needs to get at them to free the approximately 200 hostages. Hamas has denied using hospitals in this way.

The United Nations said several hospitals in Gaza had been “directly” hit over the past 24 hours, but that the death toll from the strikes could not yet be fully accounted for following a collapse in communications.

“We have seen a harrowing number of civilians, including children, killed – this has to end,” the Foreign Minister said.

“Civilians and hospitals in Gaza must be protected.

“We all want to take the next steps towards a ceasefire, but it cannot be one-sided.

“We can also say that Israel should do everything it can to observe international humanitarian law.”

Senator Wong said Hamas, which has ruled Gaza for nearly two decades, was using civilian infrastructure as shields but called on Israel, as a democracy, to adhere to the principles of conduct under international law.

Israeli attacks have resulted in several casualties, including critical injuries, among staff and patients at Gaza’s hospitals, the UN said.

“About 2700 others, including some 1500 children, have been reported missing and may be trapped or dead under the rubble, awaiting rescue or recovery,” the UN said.

Not including those expected further casualties, the toll from the conflict now exceeds 11,000 deaths, more than 4500 of whom are reported to be children, the UN said.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday urged Israel to stop killing babies and women as he called for a ceasefire.

“De facto — today, civilians are bombed — de facto,” he told the BBC. “These babies, these ladies, these old people are bombed and killed. So there is no reason for that and no legitimacy.”

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has shown no sign of heeding the calls for a ceasefire, even as the humanitarian situation in Gaza grows increasingly dire.

As Israel’s military pushes deeper into dense urban neighbourhoods, fuel shortages have led to deaths in hospitals and a massive displacement of civilians.

The conflict in the Middle East is also increasingly resonating in Australia.

Thousands of protesters converged on Melbourne’s State Library and other Australian cities on Sunday, demanding a halt to Israel’s strikes in Gaza.

More than 1000 people attended simultaneous vigils in Sydney and Brisbane, calling on Hamas to release the hostages it took in the October 7 attacks on southern Israel that killed 1200 people and precipitated the conflict.

The Foreign Minister said a two-state solution was the only viable path to a lasting peace and security for both Israelis and Palestinians.

An estimated 1.5 million people – more than half of Gaza’s population – have been displaced from their homes.

More than 700,000 are sheltering in UN buildings, with many others in hospitals and churches. Still, there are reports of displaced persons without refuge in the north of Gaza, the focus of Israel’s ground operations.

The impact on Gaza’s healthcare infrastructure has been severe, and more than one-third of its 35 hospitals have been assessed as non-operational.

Aid shipments into Gaza during the first five weeks of the conflict amounted to only 76 grams of food and 29ml of water per person daily, the Economist calculated last week. 

Opposition defence spokesman Andrew Hastie said Israel had shown “great restraint” in its response to the conflict following the October 7 attacks by Hamas.

“(Israel) have had people from across the globe calling on them for restraint, and they’ve sent millions of warnings to people living in Gaza to evacuate, reminding them that there might be an attack imminent,” he said.

Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.