Middle East

Israeli troops mass at Gaza border amid rocket fire, air strikes and clashes in Israel

LONDON: Human rights groups from Australia and Palestine have urged Australia’s federal government to rethink a potential trade agreement with Israel, citing the ongoing violent situation in Jerusalem and Gaza.

Australia is considering strengthening its economic relations with Israel through a Free Trade Agreement that the federal government hopes would boost defence, cybersecurity and innovation.

Australia already imports over $1 billion of goods and services from Israel annually, while its exports to the country are in excess of $340 million.

But citing the deteriorating situation in Gaza and Jerusalem, the Australian Centre for International Justice and the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council have urged the Australian government to halt considerations of expanded trade with Israel and condemn its actions against Palestinians.

Raji Sourani, director of the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, said: “The situation is bleak, it’s unprecedented. Even in the numerous tragic and military assaults we have been subjected to in the past, Israel has launched the worst attack ever.”

At least 83 people have been killed since violence broke out in east Jerusalem and Gaza — 67 Palestinians were killed in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, while seven Israelis have died from rockets fired by Hamas from Gaza.

Hundreds of Palestinians have also been wounded in the last week, including many worshippers who were hurt during an Israeli raid on the Al-Aqsa mosque and compound.

Sourani called on Australia to “change track” and condemn Israel’s actions. He said in a statement that “every centimetre in Gaza is shaking” and that the international community, including Australia, must be ashamed.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is conducting a feasibility study into the potential for increased trade with Israel.

In a submission to the study, the Australian Centre for International Justice and the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council said the government “must not neglect major human rights concerns, and Australia’s obligations and responsibilities under international law.”

The rights groups’ submission called on Canberra to review all trade with Israel and “implement effective measures to protect the Palestinian people’s fundamental human rights.”

Rawan Arraf, executive director of the Australian Centre for International Justice, accused the government of rewarding Israel with free trade despite crippling life in Gaza and launching a “further military assault directed at civilian targets.”

Arraf said: “Over several years, the Australian government has adopted an adverse and harmful approach to Palestinian human rights.

 “Whether that’s at the UN or its appalling intervention at the international criminal court at the request of the Israeli government, to prevent investigations into international crimes in Palestine.”

The Australian government is expected to complete the trade consultation by July, with Trade Minister Dan Tehan previously stating that he hopes to “move to something of more substance by the end of the year.”

Politicians from both sides of the aisle in Australia have condemned the violence in Israel and Palestine and urged both sides to de-escalate.

Save the Children, meanwhile, has demanded all parties to the conflict cease targeting civilians, including minors. Jason Lee, country director for the occupied Palestinian territory, said families in densely populated and blockaded Gaza had nowhere to take refuge.

“Our staff are struggling to support their terrified children,” he said. “For them, as with all families in Gaza, the last 48 hours reminds them of the horrors they have witnessed over the last 12 years in three Gaza wars. We call for all sides in the conflict to take immediate steps to de-escalate and stop this deadly cycle of retaliatory actions.”

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