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‘Horrific impacts’: Minister condemns siege on Gaza

Tony Burke on the Israel-Palestine conflict

Source: Twitter/Tony Burke

Tony Burke has become the latest Albanese government minister to speak out against Israel’s actions in Gaza, saying its blockade will kill Palestinian civilians before Hamas fighters.

Burke, who is the Industry Minister, has condemned Israel’s blockade of Gaza, citing the pain felt by his Sydney constituents.

“The people who are going to be most affected by that – the people who will die first as a result – are not Hamas, they are families who live in Gaza,” he told ABC Radio National on Friday.

“People on the ground are already much sicker as a result, and while it hasn’t had the same attention as the direct bombing in terms of the humanitarian impact of the siege, we are moments away from horrific impacts.

“If I go from Belmore, Lakemba, where I live in Punchbowl, through to Bankstown, pretty much everybody knows somebody who has lost someone.”

Israel has laid siege to the 2.3 million Palestinians living in Gaza in retaliation for Hamas’s deadly October 7 attack.

They have been cut off from fuel, water, electricity and food for weeks as the Israeli Defence Force drops thousands of tonnes of explosives on a strip of land half the size of Canberra.

Burke said Australians also needed to distinguish between Hamas – which is considered a terrorist group by the Australian government – and Palestinians and allow those with connections to either side of the violence to grieve.

“There have been too many occasions where the two have been conflated when the military conflict is meant to be against Hamas,” he said.

“People have a right to be able to grieve when innocent life is lost and the concept of competitive grief… is something that I don’t want to see in Australia.”

Burke joins fellow senior government ministers Ed Husic and Anne Aly in criticising Israel’s actions in Gaza. But his comments were swiftly condemned by Jewish organisations.

Zionist Federation of Australia president Jeremy Leibler said the view was “appalling”.

“While we share Tony Burke’s concern for the welfare of innocent Gazans, his comments on Radio National this morning were appalling. They were a complete inversion of both morals and the laws of armed conflict,” he told The Australian.

“Mr Burke said that Palestinian families would run out of food and water before Hamas fighters did, but blamed Israel for this outcome. Hamas is the de facto power in Gaza and is solely responsible for not just for the distribution of essential supplies to all Gazans, but also for the state of war Gaza now finds itself in.”

Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-CEO Alex Ryvchin also disagreed strongly.

“In any way likening Israel’s war with Hamas and mission to rescue its captives, to that [genocide] degrades the understanding of actual genocide and inflames passions locally. Language matters and leadership matters. We expect better,” he said.

Meanwhile, Australians in Lebanon are being urged to flee as soon as possible as the Mideast conflict threatens to spill over.

More than 6500 Palestinians and 1400 Israelis have been killed in the conflict. But more than 15,000 Australians remain in nearby Lebanon, despite the proximity of violence.

Acting Prime Minister Richard Marles urged Australians to leave through any commercial options available to them.

“Lebanon is very much on the front line around Israel,” he told Nine’s Today Show on Friday.

“This is a volatile situation and we have an anxiety about it escalating.”

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton agreed with Marles, warning of logistical difficulties in repatriation if Australians did not leave early.

“If there ought to be missions to airlift Australians out of a war zone or out of a difficult situation, that can turn sour very quickly,” he told Today.

The warnings follow a fiery senate estimates exchange between Greens senator Jordon Steele-John and Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong, who refused to condemn Israel’s total blockade on the Gaza Strip as a crime against humanity.

Government ministers have instead supported Israel’s “right to defend itself”, though Marles said “whatever pursuit is used here must be done in accordance with the rules of war”.

But Burke insisted the government must focus on ensuring there was a “proper humanitarian response”.

“We don’t want to see people starving, we don’t want to see people without water, we don’t want to see hospitals without power and we also want to be able to help get people out,” he said.

– with AAP

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