‘Horrific impacts’: minister condemns siege on Gaza


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Israel’s total blockade on the Gaza Strip will kill Palestinian civilians before Hamas fighters, a cabinet minister says.

In retaliation for a deadly attack by Hamas, considered a terrorist group by the Australian government, the Israeli government has laid siege to the 2.3 million Palestinians living in Gaza.

They have been cut off from fuel, water, electricity and food for weeks as the Israeli Defence Force drops thousands of tonnes of explosives on a strip of land half the size of Canberra.

Industrial relations minister Tony Burke has condemned the blockade, citing the pain felt by his Sydney constituents.

“The people who are going to be most affected by that – the people who will die first as a result – are not Hamas, they are families who live in Gaza,” he told ABC Radio National on Friday.

“People on the ground are already much sicker as a result, and while it hasn’t had the same attention as the direct bombing in terms of the humanitarian impact of the siege, we are moments away from horrific impacts.

“If I go from Belmore, Lakemba, where I live in Punchbowl, through to Bankstown, pretty much everybody knows somebody who has lost someone.”

Australians also need to distinguish between Hamas and Palestinians and allow those with connections to either side of the violence to grieve, Mr Burke said.

“There have been too many occasions where the two have been conflated when the military conflict is meant to be against Hamas,” he said.

“People have a right to be able to grieve when innocent life is lost and the concept of competitive grief… is something that I don’t want to see in Australia.”

Meanwhile, Australians in nearby nations like Lebanon are being urged to flee as soon as possible as the Mideast conflict threatens to spill over.

More than 6500 Palestinians and 1400 Israelis have been killed in the conflict, but more than 15,000 Australians remain in nearby Lebanon despite the proximity of violence.

Acting Prime Minister Richard Marles urged Australians to leave through any commercial options available to them.

“Lebanon is very much on the front line around Israel,” he told Nine’s Today Show on Friday.

“This is a volatile situation and we have an anxiety about it escalating.”

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton agreed with Mr Marles, warning of logistical difficulties in repatriation if Australians do not leave early.

“If there ought to be missions to airlift Australians out of a war zone or out of a difficult situation, that can turn sour very quickly,” he told the Today Show.

The warnings follow a fiery senate estimates exchange between Greens senator Jordon Steele-John and Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong, who refused to condemn Israel’s total blockade on the Gaza Strip as a crime against humanity.

Government ministers have instead supported Israel’s “right to defend itself”, though Mr Marles said “whatever pursuit is used here must be done in accordance with the rules of war”.

But Mr Burke insists the government must focus on ensuring there is a “proper humanitarian response”.

“We don’t want to see people starving, we don’t want to see people without water, we don’t want to see hospitals without power and we also want to be able to help get people out,” he said.

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