‘Cannot be one-sided’: Wong’s ceasefire message to Israel

Shell pulls out of Red Sea amid escalating conflict

Foreign Minister Penny Wong has urged genuine steps towards peace and security, as the number of Palestinians killed in the Gaza war continues to climb since the October 7 Hamas attack.

Wong said she was “deeply moved” by her meetings with the Israeli families of hostages taken in the October 7 terror attacks, as part of her week-long visit to the Middle East.

“I greatly admire the strength they continue to show,” she wrote on X on Wednesday.

“I assured them that in every engagement I have with relevant parties, I will use Australia’s voice to call for the immediate, unconditional and safe return of their loved ones.”

In a meeting with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, Wong shared the “strong concerns the Australian people have about the civilian death toll” in Gaza.

“We unequivocally condemn the terrorist acts of Hamas and recognise Israel’s right to defend itself, but how it does so matters,” she tweeted.

“Australia wants to see steps towards a sustained ceasefire. This cannot be one-sided.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz later took to social media to share his gratitude to Wong for her “crystal clear condemnation” of Hamas’ actions.

Wong began her visit to the region with a stop in Jordan on Tuesday, where she met her counterpart Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, King Abdullah II and the UN’s senior humanitarian co-ordinator Sigrid Kaag.

“I don’t think Australia can come to the region, demand specific assurances,” she said in Jordan.

“Our view is that peace ultimately will come if there is genuine progress towards peace and security for Israel and for the Palestinian people and their legitimate aspirations for statehood.”

Jordan is one of the few Arab countries to have signed a peace agreement with Israel. It has a large Palestinian population who were displaced from their homes at the creation of the Israeli state.

Wong’s visit came as British oil giant Shell halted all shipments through the Red Sea amid the ongoing Houthi attacks from Yemen on commercial vessels on the key global trade route.

It follows similar decisions by BP and Qatar Energy last week.

Also on Wednesday, the US military carried out a new strike in Yemen targeting anti-ship ballistic missiles in a Houthi-controlled part of the country, in the latest military action against the rebel group over its targeting of Red Sea shipping.

The Houthis, who control most of Yemen’s Red Sea coast, have claimed their attacks on commercial ships are aimed at supporting the Palestinians in Israel’s war in Gaza.

The Houthi movement has pledged to expand its targets in the Red Sea region to include US ships and has vowed to keep up attacks after US and UK forces carried out dozens of strikes last week against radar and missile capabilities.

Wong urges ‘just and enduring peace’

Hearings have begun at the International Court of Justice after Israel was accused of committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza.

Describing the humanitarian situation in Gaza as dire, Wong said Australia respected the independence of the ICJ and its role in upholding international law.

“Our support for the ICJ and respect for its independence does not mean we accept the premise of South Africa’s case,” she said.

“We will continue to work for a just and enduring peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Australia wasn’t a participant in the case against Israel.

“The Foreign Minister made Australia’s position clear,” he said.

“That doesn’t mean that we agree with some of the assumptions that they have in the South African case at all.”

Wong announced an extra $21.5 million in humanitarian aid for Palestinians, including $4 million to the Red Cross and Red Crescent emergency medical services, $6 million to the UN’s Relief and Works Agency and $11.5 million to refugee programs in Lebanon and Jordan.

She will also visit the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the United Arab Emirates during her Middle Eastern trip, and meet Palestinians impacted by Israeli settler violence in the West Bank.

But Wong has been criticised by the Coalition for not visiting the southern Israeli towns where the Hamas attacks took place.

Deputy Liberal leader Sussan Ley said it was “unforgivable” Wong would not go.

“She should see the areas that on October the 7th changed this landscape forever, both politically and for the communities,” Ley said.

-with AAP

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