Prime Minister Anthony Albanese during Question Time
Anthony Albanese has warned Israel it has a responsibility to care for innocent civilians. Image by Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS
  • politics

PM ‘very concerned’ about Israeli offensive on Rafah

Dominic Giannini February 12, 2024

Australia has expressed serious concerns about Israel’s plans to launch a full-blown attack on Rafah, a small city in southern Gaza where 1.4 million Palestinians are sheltering.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese joined other world leaders in warning Israel had a responsibility to care for innocent civilians.

“This is a place where people who have been displaced from their homes, often because their homes don’t exist anymore, have been told to go to be safe,” Mr Albanese told Sydney radio 2GB on Monday.

“I unequivocally oppose the terrorist acts that occurred on October 7 but we cannot have disregard for innocent life and I’m very concerned at the consequences for those civilians.”

Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Israel must “listen to its friends and the international community”, saying there was growing consensus for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.

“Many civilians who were displaced in Israeli operations in the north have moved south to this area, often under Israeli direction,” she told AAP.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong
 Penny Wong says there’s a growing consensus for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza. Image by Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS 

“Israel now must exercise special care in relation to these civilians. 

“Not doing so would have devastating consequences for those civilians and cause serious harm to Israel’s own interests.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has brushed off international criticism about the military operation, saying civilians would be granted safe passage to leave.

The Rafah assault is the latest escalation in Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

More than 1200 people were killed and 240 others taken hostage when Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, in what the Australian government has declared a terror event.

Israel’s subsequent war on Gaza has killed more than 27,000 Palestinians and wounded another 66,000 people, according to the UN and local health ministry.

Wounded people transported to Kuwait Hospital in Rafah, southern Gaza
 Anthony Albanese is very concerned for Palestinians sheltering in Rafah. Image by EPA PHOTO 

Alon Cassuto, from the Zionist Federatation of Australia, urged Israel to continue its bombardment until all hostages were returned.

“The terrorist organisation Hamas is holding over a hundred more hostages in tunnels under Rafah,” he said. 

The Palestinian presidency has condemned the Rafah military operation, accusing Israel of trying to forcibly displace people.

Australia has granted 2275 visas for Palestinians since October.

Most have been visitor visas and others fallen under other temporary entry categories.

The Department of Home Affairs defended some visas being granted in under an hour, with an official telling a parliamentary hearing the quick turnaround time was for people already known to the government.

It was routine that a large number of visas were processed within an hour, deputy secretary Michael Willard said, adding the average time was one day.

“I’m very confident if someone wasn’t meeting all the requirements for the granting of a visa, then the visa would not be granted,” he told Senate estimates.

Corners were not cut on the security assessment, including for identity documents, but people with strong Australian connections were prioritised, he said.

The coalition has questioned why it took four months to declare the attack a terrorist event, delaying financial assistance to impacted Australians.

Minister Murray Watt defended the timeline, saying it was under the seven-month average and significantly quicker than similar instances under a coalition government.

Mr Albanese has asked his attorney-general to draft laws to respond to a doxxing of hundreds of people in the Jewish community, whose names and social media profiles were shared online.

The attorney-general has also been tasked with strengthening hate speech laws.

“The idea that in Australia, someone should be targeted because of their religion, because of their faith is just completely unacceptable,” Mr Albanese said.