Australia cautions Israel over humanitarian concerns, announces $21.5m for Gaza emergency care and refugees

Australia cautions Israel over humanitarian concerns, announces $21.5m for Gaza emergency care and refugees
  • PublishedJanuary 17, 2024

Senator Wong has met with Israel’s president and foreign minister in Jerusalem, expressing her solidarity with Israel and condemning the massacre of October 7, when Hamas militants launched a surprise terrorist attack on southern Israel. 

But she has cautioned Israel about its war in Gaza, advocating for it to adhere to international humanitarian law.

Senator Wong’s visit to Israel is the first since she took office, and the most senior Australian government visit during the war.

She met Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz and the country’s President Isaac Hertzog in Jerusalem, who said the visit was a show of Australian solidarity with Israel.

Senator Wong also met with the families of some of the hostages being held inside Gaza.

“The most powerful thing was the opportunity and the privilege of speaking with the families of hostages,” she said.

“It was incredibly moving and this 102 days has been just devastating for them and I’m really grateful for that opportunity.”

A wide shot of a meeting room in which Australian and Israeli representatives sit on opposite sides. Flags of both countries
Penny Wong says Australia is a friend of Israel, but she cautions the country about humanitarian concerns inside Gaza.(ABC News: Haidarr Jones)

Senator Wong will not be meeting with Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and her trip isn’t expected to contain any diplomatic surprises or announcements.

She said Australia was a friend of Israel, but in opening remarks held with Mr Hertzog, she cautioned Israel about humanitarian concerns inside Gaza.

“We too are a democracy,” she said. “And because of who we are we do advocate for consistently the application of international law and international humanitarian law.

“So when we say that the way that Israel defends itself matters, that springs from who we are.”

It’s not known whether Senator Wong raised calls for a ceasefire directly with the Israeli officials.

She’s expected to meet with Palestinian leaders in the West Bank on Wednesday.

Support for Gaza emergency care and refugees

Senator Wong’s trip to Israel comes after she announced $21.5 million in humanitarian support during a visit to Jordan, the first stop on her Middle East tour.

Part of the funding is set aside for non-government organisations providing emergency care and shelter in Gaza, while roughly half will go towards supporting refugee programs in Lebanon and Jordan.

The package will see $4 million go to the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, $6 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), and $11.5 million to the refugee programs.

After meeting with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi on Tuesday, Senator Wong said Australia was deeply concerned by the “dark humanitarian crisis” unfolding in Gaza.

While she said both ministers shared a common goal of durable peace in the region, the pair had some “very different perspectives”.

On the question of the International Court of Justice, where South Africa has filed an application accusing Israel of genocide, the ministers diverged in their views.

Senator Wong said while Australia respected the independence of the court, it did not accept the “premise” of South Africa’s case.

Mr Safadi, on the other hand, has been vocal in his condemnation of Israeli atrocities in Gaza, and reiterated his country’s support for the court’s intervention.

“We’re facing a reality in which we believe Israel has committed war crimes in Gaza,” he told gathered press.


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