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Wong under pressure over Middle East visit

Penny Wong heads to the Middle East

Pressure is mounting on Foreign Minister Penny Wong to visit the Israeli towns attacked by Hamas when she visits the Middle East this week.

Wong left on Monday to travel to Israel, Jordan, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the United Arab Emirates over the week, including meetings with regional counterparts.

Wong will meet the Israeli families of hostages and survivors of the October 7 attacks, as well as Palestinians affected by Israeli settler violence in the West Bank.

Meeting the families and survivors of the attack would be important, she said ahead of her departure on Monday.

“Australia is not a central player in the Middle East, but we are a respected voice and I’ll be using our voice to advocate for a pathway out of this conflict,” she said in Adelaide.

But opposition foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham said Wong’s itinerary “appears half-hearted”.

“The failure to visit any of the sites of the October 7 Hamas attacks will disappoint many and deprive Senator Wong of a full appreciation of the atrocities committed,” he said.

Jewish groups in Australia have also expressed disappointment.

“A visit to Ground Zero of the worst anti-Semitic attack since the Holocaust would have been an important show of solidarity with Israel and Jewish Australians,” Zionist Federation of Australia president Jeremy Leibler said.

The decision was “insulting and deeply concerning”, Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-CEO Alex Ryvchin said.

“It’s essential to understanding the depth of evil that Israel faces and the necessity of its war to defeat Hamas,” he said.

“Intentionally bypassing such a visit is a serious error of judgement and we hope the Foreign Minister reconsiders this decision.”

The Palestinian community wants Wong to announce consequences for Israel breaking international law and hold Tel Aviv to account.

Australia Palestine Advocacy Network president Nasser Mashni pointed to Israel’s “indiscriminate bombing of Palestinians in Gaza, its blocking of humanitarian aid, and its expansion of illegal settlements”.

“Given she is not visiting the scenes of Israeli atrocities in Gaza, it is not appropriate for the Foreign Minister to visit a kibbutz,” he said.

“That some Zionist lobby groups are outraged about this reveals the extent of their sense of entitlement to deflect attention away from Israel’s genocide in Gaza and to influence the way this government makes its foreign policy decisions.”

Wong also faces calls from within Labor to take a tougher stance on Israeli settler violence in Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Labor MP Julian Hill has called for visa bans and making funding settlement activity illegal.

Australia condemned settler violence but wouldn’t speculate on solutions, Wong said.

“Attacking Palestinians where they have a right to be is the wrong thing to do and certainly not conducive to ensuring there isn’t escalation,” she said, reiterating support for a two-state solution.

Wong’s visit to Israel will be the first by an Australian foreign minister since 2016.

It comes after Sunday marked 100 days since Hamas – designated a terrorist organisation by Australia – killed 1200 Israelis and took 240 hostage.

Israel has since bombarded Gaza with air strikes, which local authorities say have killed more than 23,000 people and displaced 1.9 million, or 85 per cent of the besieged strip’s population.

-AAP

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