Biden to visit Israel, as Iran issues warning

Joe Biden en route to Israel

US President Joe Biden will visit Israel on Wednesday for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu amid a warning from Iran of “pre-emptive action” in coming hours.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said after lengthy talks with Netanyahu that Biden will reaffirm solidarity with Israel, which has widely been expected to launch a ground assault in Gaza.

Tuesday’s development came as Hamas released the first video of the nearly 200 hostages taken in its initial raids.

It show 21-year-old Mia Schem being treated for an arm injury and speaking to the camera. Schem says she is being looked after, and her arm had been operated on.

“At the moment I am in Gaza,” she says.

“I just ask that I am returned as fast as possible to my family, to my parents, and to my siblings. Please get us out of here as quickly as possible.”

Schem is a dual Israeli-French citizen. She was kidnapped by Hamas from the music festival where gunmen also killed more than 260 festival-goers.

There were also reports on Tuesday that Qatar Airways had joined the effort to repatriate Australians from Israel.

hostage gaza hamas

French-Israeli hostage Mia Schem, in a screenshot from the Hamas video.

The Australian reported the airline was flying 300 Australians home via Dubai, with the flight due to land at 6.45pm on Tuesday (AEDT). Virgin Australia is also reportedly involved in the rescue effort.

The federal government said on Tuesday that almost 200 people, including 96 from Pacific countries, had been evacuated from Tel Aviv overnight by the Australian government.

Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles said at least 45 Australians remained trapped in Gaza with limited access to water, electricity, fuel and food after Israel imposed a total blockade on the conflict-stricken territory. That number has doubled from what was previously thought to be 19.

The government has previously told citizens to move to the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza, in case a humanitarian window opens. But there is no guarantee this will eventuate or how long it might remain open.

“This situation is obviously extremely difficult,” Mr Marles told ABC on Tuesday.

Israel has vowed to annihilate the Hamas movement that rules Gaza after fighters burst into Israel on October 7, killing 1300 people, mainly civilians, in the deadliest day in the country’s 75-year-old history.

Biden will make clear that “Israel has the right and indeed the duty to defend its people from Hamas and other terrorists and to prevent future attacks”, Blinken said.

He said Israel would brief the US President on its war aims and strategy and on how it will conduct operations “in a way that minimises civilian casualties and enables humanitarian assistance to flow to civilians in Gaza in a way that does not benefit Hamas”.

Australians leave Israel on ADF plane

Source: Twitter/Richard Marles

The US and Israel agreed to develop a plan that will enable humanitarian aid from donor nations and multilateral organisations to reach civilians in Gaza, Blinken said.

Earlier, Iran’s foreign minister said Israel would not be allowed to act in Gaza without consequences, warning of “pre-emptive action” in the coming hours.

Gaza authorities say more than 2800 people have been killed there, around a quarter of them children, and more than 10,000 wounded are in hospitals desperately short of supplies.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told state TV: “Leaders of the Resistance will not allow the Zionist regime to take any action in Gaza. … All options are open and we cannot be indifferent to the war crimes committed against the people of Gaza.”

Iran, which backs Hamas, refers to regional countries and forces opposed to Israel and the US as a “resistance front”.

Amirabdollahian said it was not limited to Hezbollah in Lebanon and added: “This front was formed throughout the region to preserve the independence of nations and counter repeated aggressions by the Zionist regime over the past years.”

Diplomatic efforts have concentrated on getting aid into Gaza through the Rafah crossing with Egypt, the sole route out that is not controlled by Israel. Cairo said the Rafah crossing was not officially closed but was inoperable due to Israeli strikes on the Gaza side.

In the biggest sign yet that the war could spread to a new front, Israel ordered the evacuation on Monday of 28 villages in a two-kilometre-deep zone near the Lebanese border.

Israel has said more than a million people in the northern half of Gaza must head to the southern half for their safety, even though Hamas has told them to stay put.

According to the United Nations, a million Gazans have already been driven from their homes. Power is out, sanitary water is scarce, and the last fuel for hospital emergency generators could be used up within a day.

Netanyahu said Israelis should prepare for a long battle.

“Now we are focused on one target: to unite forces and charge forward to victory. This requires determination because victory will take time,” he told the Israeli parliament.

“I have a message for Iran and Hezbollah: Don’t test us in the north. Don’t make the same mistake you once made. Because today the price you will pay will be much heavier.”

-with AAP

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