Penny Wong and Israeli President Isaac Herzog
Penny Wong is in the Middle East for talks with officials including Israeli President Isaac Herzog. Image by HANDOUT/DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE
  • politics

‘No safe place’: Aid group warns of relief delays

January 18, 2024

International aid organisations have warned it will still be some time before Australian relief funds make it onto the ground in Gaza, as Penny Wong told Palestinian officials the support must be used for vital services.

The foreign minister met Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and raised her expectation a $21.5 million humanitarian package would be used to pay for healthcare and childhood education. 

The funding includes $6 million for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which the body’s deputy director of operations Scott Anderson said would be a welcome boost.

But he said it would be several days at least before any of the relief funding makes its way to people on the ground because of the conditions, warning there were no safe places in the region.

“It takes about a week, give or take, for that journey to take place, and then we bring it in through the (border) crossing,” he told ABC Radio on Thursday.

“Once we get in it, we’ll move it a long. 

“The North Sinai is a closed military zone, the Egyptians had a lot of concerns with ISIS recently, so there’s a lot of security concerns moving things through there. 

“Things move just a little bit slower, but things do make it.”

Mr Anderson said a good portion of the $6 million provided by the federal government would go towards female hygiene kits.

Opposition home affairs spokesman James Paterson said there were well documented concerns with funding given to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees being siphoned off by Hamas.

He said it was “totally inadequate” the government was relying on assurances from the Palestinian Authority – which doesn’t govern Gaza – that Australian taxpayer money would not be misspent.

But Mr Anderson said the organisation was operating independently in the region.

“I’ve had many talks with the Australian government about our neutrality, about how we approach our neutrality, and for us it’s a core principle of how we operate,” he said.

Penny Wong lays a wreath.
 Penny Wong lays a wreath at the Yad Vashem, the world Holocaust Remembrance centre in Jerusalem. Image by HANDOUT/DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE 

“There’s really no safe place in Gaza for people.”

During the visit to the Middle East, Senator Wong held talks with Palestinian communities affected by Israeli settler violence, criticising West Bank settlements as inconsistent with the “pathway to a two-state solution”.

“We have said as a government we believe settlements are contrary to international law,” she said.

“We’ve also consistently said that they are an impediment to peace.”

The visit included meetings on Wednesday with officials from Israel and Palestine as calls for a ceasefire grow, more than 100 days since the deadly October 7 attacks by Hamas.

After talks with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, Senator Wong met with the country’s national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi and visited a Holocaust remembrance centre.

The foreign minister had shared the “strong concerns the Australian people have about the death toll in Gaza” with the Israeli president.

Senator Wong will also travel to the United Arab Emirates as part of her week-long visit to the Middle East.