Over the weekend, Foreign Minister Penny Wong called for “the next steps towards a ceasefire” between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
It comes as the World Health Organisation warned of a “dire and perilous” situation in Gaza. Two main hospitals have been forced to turn away new patients due to power and water shortages. According to the WHO, heavy fighting in the area around the Al-Shifa hospital has “exacerbated the already critical circumstances” at Gaza’s biggest hospital.
Grave concerns for the 239 hostages held by Hamas in Gaza are mounting, with Hamas reported to have withdrawn from Qatar-hosted talks over the release of the hostages.
On 7 October, Hamas launched an attack on Israel, killing 1,200 people, a number that Israel’s foreign ministry has revised down from 1,400. Hamas, which Australia lists as a terrorist organisation, also captured 239 hostages. According to the UN, it continues to fire rockets into Israel.
Israel responded to the attack by declaring war, and has since launched a ground invasion in Gaza. At least 11,000 people have been killed in Gaza since 7 Oct, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. However, these figures have not been updated for a few days because the ministry’s communications are down.
Gaza is a small, densely-populated territory that the Australian Government regards as occupied
by Israel in breach of international law.
Two major hospitals in Gaza have closed their doors to new patients. The WHO has called for urgent action to stop further attacks on hospitals in Gaza, saying there have been more than 130 attacks on health facilities in Gaza over the past 36 days.
The WHO warned: “More than half of the hospitals in the Gaza Strip are closed. Those still functioning are under massive strain and can only provide very limited emergency services, lifesaving surgery and intensive care services.”
Yesterday, the WHO reported it lost contact with doctors at Gaza’s largest hospital, the al-Shifa Hospital, which has had power and water cut off for three days. The WHO said it has since restored contact with the hospital.
The WHO said premature and newborn babies on life support are at significant risk and the hospital’s intensive care facilities have also been damaged due to bombardment. The UN said two premature babies and ten other patients have died since the hospital suffered a power outage.
The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said the second largest hospital in Gaza, al-Quds, is no longer operating due to a power outage and lack of fuel.
The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) said it tried to deliver 300 litres of fuel “for urgent medical purposes to the Shifa Hospital”, but claims it was blocked by the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry.
Israel’s UN ambassador, Gilad Erdan, has accused Hamas of setting up its main headquarters underneath the al-Shifa hospital, which Hamas has denied to media outlets. The UN said hospitals “must not be used to shield military objectives from attack”.
The UN has confirmed “tens of thousands” of people have fled the north of Gaza
through a “corridor” opened by the Israeli
Israeli authorities have said 239 hostages are still being held by Hamas. Since the hostages were first taken from Israel, Qatar has been mediating talks between Hamas and Israel on their release.
Hamas has reportedly now withdrawn from these talks, according to a Palestinian official who told the news agency Reuters. The official said the talks have been suspended due to Israel’s ongoing attacks on Gazan hospitals.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly ruled out a ceasefire in Gaza until Hamas releases all hostages.
In an interview on the ABC’s Insiders on Sunday, Wong said “we all want to take the next steps towards a ceasefire”. She said a ceasefire cannot be one-sided, and urged Hamas to release all hostages.
In the same interview, Wong urged Israel to abide by international law. She said that requires “the protection of hospitals, of patients, of medical staff.”
Australia had formally called for humanitarian pauses in Gaza. Israel has now introduced daily, four-hour pauses.
Federal Opposition Immigration Spokesman Dan Tehan said Wong “got her language completely wrong” when she condemned Israel for targeting hospitals in Gaza.
Tehan said “this moral equivalence that she keeps trying to seek is going to do more and more damage here in Australia, especially to the Jewish community at a time when they are feeling very unsafe.”