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Australians will be evacuated from Israel on emergency flights amid a political brawl over the federal response to the crisis in the Middle East, with Opposition Leader Peter Dutton urging the government to act against Palestinian protesters and offer munitions to Israel.
The government is arranging the flights with Qantas to repatriate Australians within days after confirmation that Sydney grandmother Galit Carbone had died in the Hamas attacks – the first known Australian casualty.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese visited a Melbourne synagogue, St Kilda Shule, on Wednesday afternoon to assure Jewish leaders of his support. He repudiated the “hateful prejudice” of protesters who yelled antisemitic chants in Sydney earlier in the week.
The Sydney and Melbourne protests are fuelling authorities’ concerns about support for Hamas, named a terrorist group by Australian security agencies, and intensifying a rhetorical fight between Labor and the Coalition over which side was stronger on national security.
Dutton escalated his warnings about the domestic risks and called on Albanese to condemn the protesters.
“This is conduct that deserves condemnation from the highest office in the country, and the prime minister should be out there sending a very clear message that these rallies shouldn’t take place,” he said.
Going further in a radio interview, Dutton suggested that Australia offer military aid to Israel.
“I think we should make it clear to Israel, as well, that, if requested, Australia can provide munitions or other support, specialist support, if that’s going to provide support to the resolution of what is obviously a horrible situation,” he said.
While Albanese convened a ministry meeting in Melbourne as well as visiting the synagogue, deputy Liberal leader Sussan Ley called on him to return urgently to Canberra to focus on the situation in Israel because he had been too slow to respond.
In another Coalition statement, shadow education spokeswoman Sarah Henderson called on the government to protect Jewish students at Australian schools and universities.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has attacked Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s response to the crisis in the Gaza Strip.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen
Albanese and senior ministers have been briefed by security officials since Hamas launched its incursion last weekend, while also negotiating the repatriation flights with Qantas, which will depart from Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv from Friday.
The flights will be operated by Qantas free-of-charge and will take Australians to London.
“Our immediate priority is to ensure the Australians who want to leave Israel are able to do so – but we are working on options for Australians who need onward support from London,” Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Transport Minister Catherine King said in a statement.
With social media comments drawing parallels between the murder of Israeli civilians and the Holocaust, Wong made a speech to the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce that emphasised Labor’s support for the creation of Israel after the atrocities of the Second World War.
“We remain as steadfast and unwavering as ever in our support for Israel,” she said, adding that peace would be enhanced by a two-state solution between Israel and a future Palestinian state.
“One of the many tragic consequences of Hamas’s abhorrent attack is that it has pushed that two-state solution further out of reach,” Wong said. “That also makes this is an unconscionable crime perpetrated by Hamas against the Palestinian people.”
Greens leader Adam Bandt expressed concern at both sides of the argument in Australia over the Middle East. “There is no place for antisemitism or Islamophobia in the push to end the occupation of Palestine and build a lasting peace,” he said.
Albanese dismissed Dutton’s criticisms of the government and his call for an urgent meeting of the national security committee of cabinet.
Calling the murder of Israelis by Hamas an “appalling and abhorrent” attack, Albanese said he and others had been working on contingencies such as the repatriation flights for several days and did not talk publicly about this work while it was underway.
“That’s the way that national security, diplomacy and intelligence should operate. Not as a political game,” Albanese said. “These are serious issues. My government has had every single one of the appropriate meetings, forums, discussions, briefings has occurred.”
Defence Minister Richard Marles said the government was considering measures to increase security for the Jewish community in Australia.
“We are looking very closely at what needs to be done in terms of additional security, particularly around Jewish schools,” Marles said on 3AW. “Every Australian should have a right to go about their activities in this country free from fear.”
Marles said he sensed a deep anxiety among Jewish Australians. He defended Labor’s response to the attacks, saying that the government had condemned Hamas from the outset and always reiterated Israel’s right to defend itself.
Australians who want to leave Israel on these flights should call the Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 if calling from overseas or 1300 555 135 if calling from within Australia.
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