FOREIGN Minister Julie Bishop has condemned as “indefensible” the shelling by Israeli troops of three UN schools in which women and children were sheltering.
Ms Bishop said she was deeply troubled by the deaths of hundreds of innocent Palestinians and welcomed the announcement of a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire to commence later today.
She said the Australian government supported Israel’s right to defend itself from the attacks of Hamas and other militants.
“No country should have to tolerate arbitrary and indiscriminate attacks upon its civilian population by rocket fire and infiltration through tunnels,” Ms Bishop said.
“However, in exercising its right to self-defence, Israel must take all necessary steps to prevent civilian casualties.”
Longer Gaza ceasefire within reach
Ms Bishop said the government was deeply concerned about the unfolding tragedy in Gaza where 1900 Palestinians had lost their lives, most of them civilians, according to Palestinian medical officials. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers have also died, in addition to two Israeli civilians and a Thai labourer who worked in Israel..
“I am deeply troubled by the suffering being endured by the Palestinian population in Gaza, where many hundreds of innocent people have been killed, including women and children,” Ms Bishop said.
“There have been a number of shocking incidents, including the indefensible shelling of three UN schools, all of which were sheltering civilians.”
Australia supported calls for a full investigation into these incidents, Ms Bishop said.
“Both sides must respect international humanitarian law,” she added.
Ms Bishop said Hamas had failed to embrace a series of opportunities to end the conflict, most recently through its almost immediate violation of a humanitarian ceasefire negotiated for August 1.
“This was a flagrant violation of an agreement reached with UN and US mediation and demonstrated a callous disregard for the welfare of the people of Gaza,” she said.
“The violence must stop as soon as possible.”
Israel and Hamas must fully commit to and implement the ceasefire, she said. “Then the priority must be to reach a permanent ceasefire agreement that brings an end to the killing and recrimination.”
Acting Greens leader Adam Bandt said the high civilian death toll demonstrated that this was no longer simply a conflict.
“It is a massacre,” Mr Bandt said.
“Australia at the moment is standing idly by while its ally, the United States, rearms and restocks the Israeli armed forces including during a ceasefire. This is not good enough.
“The Australian government should pressure the United States to stop rearming and restocking the Israeli government. Now is the time to press for peace.”
Opposition legal affairs spokesman Mark Dreyfus said Australians were rightly concerned about the loss of civilian life, but they were concerned, too, about the Hamas militants’ practice of storing arms and staging attacks on Israel from schools and hospitals.
Mr Dreyfus said both sides of politics urged Israel to show as much restraint as possible in what was a very, very difficult situation.