Australia says Israel must change course in Gaza to keep international support

Foreign Minister Penny Wong backs Biden’s criticism of Netanyahu’s war policies, urges Israel to address ‘humanitarian catastrophe’

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong at the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit in Melbourne, Australia, March 5, 2024. (Hamish Blair/AP Photo)
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong at the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit in Melbourne, Australia, March 5, 2024. (Hamish Blair/AP Photo)

SYDNEY — Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said on Tuesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was undermining Israel with his approach to the war in Gaza and urged the country to change course or lose even more international support.

US President Biden said on Saturday that Netanyahu was “hurting Israel more than helping” by conducting the war in a way contrary to the country’s values. Netanyahu responded by saying publicly that Biden is “wrong.”

Asked about Biden’s comments on Tuesday, Wong agreed and said international support for Israel would continue to fray unless the country addressed the “humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza.

“October 7th was a terrorist attack and the world was rightly very sympathetic to and in solidarity with Israel at that time,” Wong said at the Australian Financial Review Business Summit on Tuesday.

“I think the world is horrified with the current situation… and I would say that unless Israel changes its course it will continue to lose support.”

The war was triggered by the October 7 attack on Israel by Palestinian terror group Hamas which killed 1,200 people amid horrific atrocities. The thousands of attackers who burst through the border with the Gaza Strip and into southern Israel also abducted 253 people who were taken as hostages to Gaza.

Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Penny Wong at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, Jan. 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

Israel responded with a military campaign to topple the Hamas regime in Gaza, destroy the terror group, and free the hostages, 130 of whom remain in captivity.

The conflict has displaced most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people and the UN estimates a quarter of the population is at risk of famine.

Wong’s latest comments on Israel are part of a growing chorus of voices among even its stalwart allies calling for the country to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza as it plans for an assault on the southern city of Rafah, the last Hamas stronghold.

Displaced Palestinians collect food donated by a charity before an iftar meal, on the first day of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, on March 11, 2024. (AFP)

Canada, Australia, and New Zealand called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in a joint statement last month. Wong said the three countries united to “amplify” their voices.

UN chief Antonio Guterres on Monday appealed for a truce and said the threatened assault on Rafah could put the people of Gaza in “an even deeper circle of hell.”

He also called for the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas and the removal of “all obstacles to ensure the delivery of lifesaving aid at the speed and massive scale required” to Gaza. Aid is only trickling in, Guterres charged.

Wong visited Israel in January and met with Foreign Minister Israel Katz.

Katz said at the time they held a “constructive meeting”  and thanked Wong “for her expression of solidarity with Israel and her crystal clear condemnation of the atrocities committed by Hamas on October 7th.” The families of some hostages joined the diplomats.

But Wong came under some criticism from Israel supporters in Australia for not visiting sites in southern Israel where Hamas terrorists perpetrated massacres.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong (left) meets with Foreign Minister Israel Katz on January 16, 2024. (Rafi Ben Hakun)

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says the IDF offensive has now killed more than 31,000 people. These figures cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires. The IDF says it has killed over 13,000 terror operatives in Gaza since the war started, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Negotiations via international mediators to reach even a temporary truce that would see hostages released in exchange for a pause in fighting and the release of hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners held in Israeli jails have not reached an agreement. A similar, weeklong lull in November saw the release of 105 hostages, mostly women and children, in exchange for three times as many Palestinian security prisoners.

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