ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 148

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Australia sends troops, transport aircraft to aid citizens in Middle East

In this photo released by Australian Department of Defense, a Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment moves across a waterway with United States Marines and Armed Forces of the Philippines soldiers during a large-scale combined amphibious assault exercise on Friday, Aug. 25, 2023, at a naval base in San Antonio, Zambales, Philippines.  (Riley Blennerhassett/Australian Department of Defense via AP)
In this photo released by Australian Department of Defense, a Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment moves across a waterway with United States Marines and Armed Forces of the Philippines soldiers during a large-scale combined amphibious assault exercise on Friday, Aug. 25, 2023, at a naval base in San Antonio, Zambales, Philippines. (Riley Blennerhassett/Australian Department of Defense via AP)

Australia says it is sending troops and two military transport aircraft to the Middle East as concern grows for Australian citizens in the region.

Defence Minister Richard Marles says a “significant number” of troops was being sent but declined to give the number. Two C-130J Super Hercules aircraft had also been deployed.

Marles, who is also deputy prime minister, would not say where the aircraft and troops would be based.

The planes will add to a C-17A Globemaster heavy transport aircraft and a KC-30 air refueller already in the area.

“The point of this is to provide support to Australian populations who are in the Middle East if this gets worse,” Marles tells public broadcaster ABC.

The Israel-Hamas war was triggered by an unprecedented attack on Israel launched by the Palestinian terror group on October 7 from the Gaza Strip, in which gunmen poured through the border fence and killed, tortured and mutilated some 1,400 people in Israel, mostly civilians including Australian citizens, and kidnapped over 200.

Israel declared its intention of toppling and destroying the terror group that rules the Strip, and began heavy bombardment ahead of an expected ground offensive. According to unverified Hamas figures, thousands have been killed in the strikes on Gaza, though it is not clear how many of those are its operatives.

More than 800 Australians have been flown out of Israel since October 13.

Marles says the Australian government is trying to help 79 citizens in Gaza and 51 in the West Bank who have asked to leave.

Australia has a long history of military presence in the wider Middle East.

It contributes troops to a joint task force fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, focusing on training Iraqi security forces.

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