Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Hamas-Israel conflict, assisted-departure flights for Australians fleeing Israel, humanitarian pause, comments by ALP counterparts.

Kieran Gilbert: In the meantime, I want to bring in the Assistant Foreign Affairs Minister, Tim Watts, who is with us. Tim, thanks for your time. The ongoing situation in the Middle East remains fluid. Can you give our viewers an update on the situation for Australians who are caught up in the region?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, thanks, Kieran. Well, obviously, it remains a very challenging and unpredictable environment in the Middle East in the conflict that has followed Hamas's terrible terrorist attacks on the State of Israel. Since the start of this conflict, around 2000 Australians who have registered with DFAT through our Consular Crisis Centre have now returned, or sorry, left Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Around 900 of those on eight assisted departure flights operated by the – supported by the Australian Government.

Now, we are continuing to provide significant consular assistance to Australians still in the region. We have particular concerns for the 73 Australians that we are supporting in the West Bank. Many of them seeking to depart via the border across to Jordan, and we are assisting there with accommodation and onwards travel. But we have particular concern for the 88 Australians still in Gaza.

We have been working – well, it's a very distressing situation for those Australians and their families. We’re in direct contact with them. We are focusing our diplomatic efforts with other countries in the region, with the United States, with Egypt, to facilitate passage for those Australians through the Rafah crossing. Unfortunately, like for all other countries, that has not been successful at this point. But if we are able to facilitate that crossing at the Rafah crossing for those Australians, we are already working on onwards travel and accommodation for them.

Kieran Gilbert: There has been a call for a humanitarian pause. The UN voted for such a truce. The government abstained due to the UN Ambassador wanted more explicit condemnation of Hamas. But do you accept that a humanitarian pause would also be a chance for some respite for Hamas to regroup?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, Kieran, we've been calling for a humanitarian pause to enable sustained, safe, humanitarian access to Gaza to provide the water, the medical supplies, the sanitation, the services that are essential for the sustainment of health. There is very significant ongoing suffering in Gaza from innocent civilians, and that's why we also committed a $15 million relief package through trusted partners to provide that assistance.

As you said in the United Nations vote, we voted against that – sorry – we abstained from that motion alongside 45 other countries because we, while supporting the substance of the motion, thought it was incomplete and that a motion like that could not proceed without condemnation of Hamas, the instigator of this conflict and the terrible terrorist attacks that they have mounted. Similarly, that we thought that there should be a way to recognise Israel's inherent right to exist through that motion while also recognising the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for a state of their own.

Look, we've been very clear and consistent from the start that Israel has a right to self-defence and that is what it is pursuing in Gaza at the moment, prosecuting this against Hamas. But it is important that innocent civilian life is protected while that right is being exercised. How the right to self-defence is exercised is fundamental, not just to the preservation of innocent civilian life, but also to Israel's security interests itself. We are a friend of Israel. We are, as a friend, telling Israel that it is important the way that it exercises its right to see that will minimise the risk of spread.

Kieran Gilbert: I spoke to the former Victorian Minister, Phil Dalidakis, yesterday, and he was critical of Tony Burke. He says that he should look as to whether or not he's been consistent with the message out of the Albanese Cabinet. Phil Dalidakis, a member of the Australian Jewish community, as you well know. Can you see why some of your ALP counterparts are frustrated with some of the messaging out of the government?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, Kieran, we've been clear and consistent since the start and all Labor members and senators signed onto that bipartisan motion that was passed through the Parliament and that motion was very clear. It recognised the condemnation of both parties of the terrorist attacks undertaken by Hamas. It also expressed our distress at the loss of innocent civilian life on the Israeli side and on the Palestinian side resulting from the subsequent conflict here.

These are very difficult issues in the Middle East and in Australia. Australia is a country where half of us were either born overseas or have a parent born overseas and that connects us directly with these kinds of crisis’s (sic), these kinds of traumas around the world. So, all members of Parliament are processing this themselves at an individual personal level. They're working it through with their communities, but as I say, there's strong unity represented by that unanimous bipartisan resolution passed by the Parliament.

Kieran Gilbert: Tim Watts, Assistant Foreign Affairs Minister. Thanks. We'll talk to you soon.

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