Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong in Jerusalem
Senator Wong's visit to the UAE follows discussions with Israeli and Palestinian representatives. Image by HANDOUT/DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE
  • politics

Wong makes UAE visit on final leg of Middle East trip


January 19, 2024

Foreign Minister Penny Wong has held her final round of talks in the Middle East, meeting with key officials in the United Arab Emirates on the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Senator Wong met with UAE counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan on ways to increase humanitarian aid to Gaza, and a path to ceasefire.

“We discussed averting regional escalation and supporting a political process that meets Israel’s security needs and Palestinian aspirations for statehood,” she said on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

“The UAE is a key partner for Australia in the region. We co-operate across a broad range of sectors and Australia welcomes expanding ties, including the commencement of trade agreement negotiations.”

The foreign minister also spoke with Minister of State Reem Al Hashimy, the pair discussing work carried out to repatriate Australians in the Middle East, along with defence and security issues.

Senator Wong is expected to meet Australian Defence Force troops who’ve helped return Australian citizens caught up in the conflict following the October 7 attacks by Hamas.

The visit to the UAE is the final leg of the foreign minister’s week-long visit to the Middle East, as conflict in the region between Hamas and Israel continues.

The stop comes as the US military says it has conducted further strikes on Houthi missiles loaded to be fired from nearby Yemen.

The Iran-backed group had been blockading critical commercial shipping lanes in the Red Sea in support of Palestine.

A container ship crosses the Suez Canal towards the Red Sea.
 The Houthi disruption in the Red Sea has prompted warnings of setbacks for global trade. Image by EPA PHOTO 

The disruption in the Red Sea has prompted warnings of setbacks for global trade.

Meanwhile, the Australian government has come under fire for not yet officially designating the Hamas event as a terrorist attack.

Without the declaration, Australian citizens affected by the Hamas attack are ineligible for the Victim of Terrorism Overseas Payment. 

The government scheme provides a one-off payment for Australians harmed or who have lost a family member due to a declared overseas terrorist act.

It’s been implemented for events like the September 11 attacks, the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings and 2020 stabbings in the Maldives. 

Violence in the Gaza Strip escalated after Hamas, designated a terrorist group by the Australian government, attacked Israel on October 7.

More than 1200 Israelis were killed and 240 were taken hostage, according to Tel Aviv officials.

In response, Israel’s bombardment, blockade and ground invasion of Gaza has killed more than 24,000 Palestinians, put half the territory’s 2.3 million residents at risk of starvation and left more than 60 per cent without homes, according to local health officials and the UN.

Education Minister Jason Clare said the Home Affairs minister was still examining a potential designation and noted the prime minister had condemned Hamas and called its attack a terrorism event.

But opposition spokesman Andrew Hastie said the lack of listing was concerning.

“I would have thought the bureaucracy should have been all over this, and they’re not, and the government hasn’t been leading, so I’m not surprised the bureaucracy is dragging its feet,” he told Sky News.

“October 7 was a clear-cut, terrorist incident, and Hamas is a listed terrorist organisation. The parliament passed a joint motion condemning this as a terrorist act. There are Australians who are affected.”