Canberra: Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong announced on Monday that she will visit the Middle East this week, which will make her the senior most member of the government in Canberra to tour the region amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.
This will also be Wong’s first visit to the Middle East after assuming office since May 2022, reports Xinhua news agency.
In a statement, the Foreign Minister said she will make travel to the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories “to support international diplomatic efforts towards a durable peace in the Middle East”.
Wong said she will also meet families of Israeli hostages and survivors of the October 7, 2023 Hamas attack, as well as representatives of Palestinian communities affected by settler violence.
“One hundred days since the October 7 terror attacks, I will use Australia’s voice to advocate for a pathway out of the current conflict, an increase in vital humanitarian assistance, upholding of international law and greater protection for civilians, preventing regional escalation, and working toward a lasting peace,” Wong was quoted as saying in the statement.
The Minister said that although she will “convey Australia’s support for Israel’s security and its right to defend itself in the face of terrorism”, she will also make clear Canberra’s “support for Palestinians’ right to self-determination and commitment to meeting humanitarian need in Gaza and the West Bank with officials in the Occupied Palestinian Territories”.
“I will meet with representatives of communities affected by settler violence and reaffirm our view that settlements are illegal under international law. I will also emphasise Australia’s opposition to the forcible displacement of Palestinians and our view that Gaza must no longer be used as a platform for terrorism,” Wong added.
She further reiterated that Australia is committed to working with partners “toward a just and enduring peace in the form of a two-state solution, where Israelis and Palestinians can live securely within internationally recognised borders”.
Wong’s announcement came less than a week after Australia confirmed its support to the US and UK airstrikes targeting sites belonging to the Houthi rebels in Yemen, in response to the Iran-backed militia’s continued attacks against commercial shipping in the Red Sea.
On January 12, Defence Minister Richard Marles told reporters that Australian personnel were present in operational headquarters during the strikes but stopped short of elaborating on the nature of their involvement.
On January 3, Australia was part of 12-nation group including Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, the UK and the US, which jointly issued a formal warning to the Houthis and called the attacks in the Red Sea “illegal, unacceptable, and profoundly destabilising”.
They said there was “no lawful justification for intentionally targeting civilian shipping and naval vessels”, adding if the attacks continued then the Houthis would “bear the consequences”.
In December 2023, Australia had rejected a request from the US to send a Royal Australian Navy warship to the Red Sea to “help secure international shipping lanes”.
The government instead committed to deploying additional Australian Defence Force officers to the 39-nation Combined Maritime Forces command in Bahrain.