Israel in touch with Australians over hostages, Ya’alon says

Defense minister declares Israel ready to help after gunman takes Sydney cafe; Israeli singer left coffee shop minutes before siege

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel is in contact with Australian authorities over the unfolding hostage situation in a Sydney coffee shop, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Monday.

Speaking to Israel Radio, Ya’alon said that Israel would do anything it could to help.

“It is far, but there are things we can do from afar,” he said.

Police have said they are negotiating with the gunman, who has apparently made a number of demands via phone calls that hostages were forced to make to local media organizations.

Australian officials have yet to confirm that the Monday morning attack, in which a gunman stormed a central Sydney cafe and took an unknown number of people hostage, is terror related, though they have pointed to indications that it is “politically motivated.”

Shortly after taking the coffee shop, the gunman forced hostages to display a flag with an Islamic affirmation of faith, leading some to believe the incident was related to Islamist terror.

“This seems to be another attack by an Islamist, jihadist organization, part of the phenomenon of the spread of global jihad, and the terrorism it brings to different places, which also reaches Australia,” Ya’alon told the radio station.

He did not say what led him to the conclusion that the attack was connected to a jihadist organization.

An armed policeman is seen outside a cafe in the central business district of Sydney on December 15, 2014. (Photo credit:AFP/SAEED KHAN)
An armed policeman is seen outside a cafe in the central business district of Sydney on December 15, 2014. (Photo credit:AFP/SAEED KHAN)

Speaking on the same radio program, Israeli singer Benny Elbaz, who left the very Lindt Cafe minutes before the hostage-taker entered, said he considered his near-miss a “Hanukkah miracle.”

Benny Elbaz (YouTube screenshot)
Benny Elbaz (YouTube screenshot)

Elbaz said he had been in the cafe with a number of Israelis, but left about 15 minutes before the gunman entered.

The Israeli embassy in Australia earlier published a tweet expressing Israel’s sympathy for the hostages.

The Jewish community in Australia went “in lockdown” as the incident unfolded Monday, with schools releasing students earlier and officials urging caution and alertness, according to community sources who spoke to The Times of Israel.

Avi Lewis and Ricky Ben-David contributed to this report. 

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