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Penny Wong flying home to face pressure from both Liberals and Labor

Foreign Minister Penny Wong met with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi and other regional leaders.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong met with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi and other regional leaders. Photo: AAP

Australia’s foreign minister returns from a week-long Middle East visit to criticism of the government’s designation of attacks by Hamas, and a call from within her own party to fast-track recognition of a Palestinian state.

Penny Wong has spent the last few days in talks with counterparts in Jordan, Israel, Palestine and finally the United Arab Emirates, where the minister discussed ways to increase humanitarian aid to Gaza and a path to ceasefire.

“We discussed averting regional escalation and supporting a political process that meets Israel’s security needs and Palestinian aspirations for statehood,” she said on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

“The UAE is a key partner for Australia in the region. We co-operate across a broad range of sectors and Australia welcomes expanding ties, including the commencement of trade agreement negotiations.”

During her trip Senator Wong outlined an additional $21.5 million in humanitarian aid for the region, focusing on relief efforts for those affected by settler violence in Gaza, as well as the growing number of refugees in Jordan and Lebanon.

Sheep diverted

A live-export ship from Australia has been diverted away from the Red Sea due to the worsening security situation in the major shipping route, the federal agriculture department said.

The MV Bahijah left Fremantle on January 5 with sheep and cattle bound for the Middle East with approval of the department, which is now set to review contingency options.

“The department is monitoring the consignment closely and no significant animal health or welfare concerns have been reported at this time,” the department said in a statement on Friday night.

Houthi militants backed by Iran have launched attacks on vessels in the Red Sea in support of Palestine, with the United States and United Kingdom then launching strikes on Houthi sites in Yemen.

It comes as the opposition criticised the federal government for not formally listing Hamas’ initial assault as a terrorist act.

Violence in the Gaza Strip escalated after Hamas, designated a terrorist group by Australia, attacked Israel on October 7.

More than 1200 Israelis were killed and 240 were taken hostage.

In response, Hamas claims Israel’s bombardment, blockade and ground invasion of Gaza has killed more than 24,000 Palestinians, put half the territory’s 2.3 million residents at risk of starvation and left more than 60 per cent without homes, according to local health officials and the UN.

Without the declaration, Australians impacted by the attack are ineligible for the Victim of Terrorism Overseas Payment.

Terror-victim payouts

The one-off payment is for Australians harmed or those who lost a family member due to a declared overseas terrorist act, and was previously implemented for events like the September 11 attacks.

Opposition spokesman Andrew Hastie said the lack of a listing was concerning.

“I would have thought the bureaucracy should have been all over this and they’re not, and the government hasn’t been leading, so I’m not surprised the bureaucracy is dragging its feet,” he told Sky News.

“October 7 was a clear-cut, terrorist incident and Hamas is a listed terrorist organisation. The parliament passed a joint motion condemning this as a terrorist act. There are Australians who are affected.”

Federal Labor backbencher Julian Hill said he believes Israel’s prime minister is moving towards apartheid and called on Australia to fast-track recognition of a Palestinian state.

This week Benjamin Netanyahu pushed back against the creation of an independent state, saying Israel must have security control west of the Jordan River.

“The grave implication of Netanyahu’s comments is that he is hell-bent on formalising a policy of apartheid,” Mr Hill said in a statement.

“What else can he possibly mean?”

-AAP

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