Parliament divided on Gaza as international alarm grows

The federal government’s position on Israel’s escalating offensive in Gaza drew criticism from both sides of politics on Monday amid rising international concern about the safety of Palestinian patients in hospitals and civilians seeking shelter.

Air strikes in Gaza killed 13 people and destroyed the cardiac ward of the Palestinian enclave’s main hospital as Israel’s invasion entered its sixth week as the civilian toll eclipsed 11,000.

But in question time, the Opposition attacked a call from Foreign Minister Penny Wong for both sides to take steps towards a ceasefire and for Israel to adhere to principles of international humanitarian law.

Liberal leader Peter Dutton condemned the comments as “reckless” and said they implied Israel was in breach of international law and should halt its ground offensive.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese called the question a misrepresentation and said the government had consistently called for international law to be upheld and casualties to be minimised.

“She did not say that,” Albanese said. “The position on the Middle East is a complex one and one that we know is causing great distress for Jewish Australians, for Palestinian Australians, and for people of Islamic faith as well.

“We have a responsibility to not (to) seek to politicise these matters.”

Meanwhile, the Greens pushed for the government to condemn the Israeli offensive as a war crime.

At the same time, Jewish groups accused the government of demonising Israel or coming close to advocating for its surrender, six weeks after an horrific Hamas terror attack on southern Israel killed 1200 people.

The international community is expressing growing unease about the situation in Gaza as the cardiac ward of the enclave’s main al-Shifa Hospital was destroyed in an air strike, and fighting continued close to other medical facilities.

“The United States does not want to see firefights in hospitals, where innocent people, patients receiving medical care, are caught in the crossfire,” US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Sunday.

Much of the occupied territories’ health facilities have already been damaged; after 37 days of fighting, only 17 of its 36 hospitals are operational.

The World Health Organisation says 137 attacks on healthcare units have killed 521 people, including 16 medical personnel.

“The ongoing tragedy of death and injury to civilians ensnared in this conflict is unacceptable and must stop,” the United Nations Development Program said.

“Civilians, civilian infrastructure, and the inviolability of UN facilities must be respected and protected at all times.”

Israel says it has been attacking targets in line with international law. It said that Hamas, a group regarded as a terror organisation by Australia and which rules Gaza, operates out of a tunnel network deliberately located beneath the Al-Shifa facility but denied firing on the hospital.

Macron said the bombing of Gaza was not the best way for Israel to protect itself and would only give rise to “resentment and bad feelings” that would exacerbate future conflict.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Hamas was preventing civilians from leaving conflict areas, including at gunpoint.

“The Israeli army is doing an exemplary job trying to minimise civilian casualties and maximise terrorist casualties,” he said.

An estimated one-third of the 11,078 people killed in Gaza have been children; 1.5 million people have fled their homes.

“We need steps towards a ceasefire because we know that Hamas – it cannot be one‑sided – we know that Hamas is still holding hostages, and we know that a ceasefire must be agreed between the parties,” Senator Wong said on Sunday.

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