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Wong in UAE on final leg of Middle East trip

Wong pleads for peace in Middle East; US strikes Yemen

Foreign Minister Penny Wong will hold her final round of talks in the Middle East when she meets key officials from the United Arab Emirates.

Wong arrived in the UAE on Thursday night (Australian time), following discussions with Israeli and Palestinian representatives.

Talks with counterparts in the UAE are expected to centre on ways of preventing the conflict between Israel and Hamas spreading to other parts of the Middle East.

Wong will also meet Australian Defence Force troops based in the nation who have helped to return Australian citizens who were caught up in the conflict following the October 7 attacks by Hamas.

The final stage of Wong’s week-long visit comes as the US military said it had conducted further strikes on Houthi missiles that were loaded to be fired from nearby Yemen.

The Iran-backed group had been blockading critical commercial shipping lanes in the Red Sea in support of Palestine.

The disruption in the Red Sea has prompted warnings of setbacks for global trade.

RaboResearch general manager Stefan Vogel said Australian agricultural exports such as canola might be disrupted if cargo had to be diverted away from the area.

“Globally for containerised and bulk goods, the shipping industry has to make tough decisions at the moment, either to navigate the Suez Canal and risk severe attacks by Iran-backed Houthi rebels, or to take a nine to 15-day detour around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope,” he said.

“Canal issues might help Australian wheat and barley shipments to be slightly more competitive into destination markets in Asia, the Middle East and eastern Africa.”

Wong earlier raised expectations with Palestinian officials that $21.5 million in humanitarian aid pledged by the federal government would be used for health care and childhood education in Gaza and not be accessed by terror groups.

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

More than 1200 Israelis were killed and 240 were taken hostage, according to Tel Aviv officials.

In response, 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 the local health ministry and the UN.

Meanwhile, the Australian government has come under fire as it is yet to officially designate the Hamas event as a terrorist attack.

Without the declaration, Australian citizens affected by the Hamas attack are ineligible for the Victim of Terrorism Overseas Payment.

The government scheme provides a one-off payment for Australians who have been harmed or lost a family member due to a declared overseas terrorist act.

It was implemented for events such as the September 11 attacks, the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings, and the 2020 stabbings in the Maldives.

Education Minister Jason Clare said Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil was still examining a potential designation and noted Prime Minister Anthony Albanese had condemned the Hamas attack and called it a terrorism event.

But Deputy Opposition Leader Sussan Ley said the government needed to make the call now.

“Prime Minister Anthony Albanese needs to fix this today, it’s been more than 100 days,” she told Sunrise on Friday morning.

“There are victims of this terrorism incident in Australia that should be getting help that are not getting help.”

-AAP

Topics: Penny Wong
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