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Penny Wong condemns escalating violence and calls for calm in Middle East

Photo by Camille Bismonte on Unsplash

Australia’s foreign minister, Penny Wong, has condemned escalating violence and terror attacks in the Middle East.

Her comments follow rocket attacks fired into Israel from Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli military has fired rockets back, blaming the incident on Hamas.

Tensions in the region were high following Israeli police raids on Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque during Ramadan, where police were filmed beating worshippers.

Al-Aqsa mosque sits at the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City, on a hill known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, and to Jews as the Temple Mount.

Muslims regard the site as the third holiest in Islam, after Mecca and Medina. Al-Aqsa is the name given to the whole compound and is home to two Muslim holy places: the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque, which was built in the 8th century AD.

The compound overlooks the Western Wall, a sacred place of prayer for Jews, for whom the Temple Mount is their most sacred site. Jews believe biblical King Solomon built the first temple there 3,000 years ago. A second temple was razed by the Romans in AD70.

Israel captured the site in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it with the rest of East Jerusalem and adjoining parts of the West Bank in a move not recognised internationally.

Jordan, whose ruling Hashemite family has custodianship of the Muslim and Christian sites, appoints members of the Waqf institution, which oversees the site.

The compound has long been a flashpoint for deadly violence over matters of sovereignty and religion in Jerusalem.

Under the longstanding “status quo” arrangement governing the area, which Israel says it maintains, non-Muslims can visit but only Muslims are allowed to worship in the mosque compound.

Jewish visitors have increasingly prayed more or less openly at the site in defiance of the rules, and Israeli restrictions on Muslim worshippers’ access to the site have led to protests and outbreaks of violence. Reuters

Wong said Australia was deeply concerned by the escalating violence in the region.

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“During this time of Ramadan, Pesach [Passover] and Easter, we call on all parties to immediately halt the violence, exercise restraint and restore calm,” she said on Sunday.

“Australia condemns unreservedly the indiscriminate rocket attacks from southern Lebanon and Gaza, and recognises Israel’s right to defend itself.”

The escalating violence included a car ramming attack in Tel Aviv which led to the death of an Italian tourist and the wounding of five others.

The car ramming came hours after two sisters were killed in a shooting attack in the West Bank.

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“We are shocked by the horrifying news of deadly terror attacks in the West Bank and Tel Aviv and our thoughts go to the victims’ families and the injured. Terrorism and violence can never be justified,” Wong said.

“Australia calls on all parties to respect and protect the sanctity and status of Jerusalem’s holy sites. Violence at Al Aqsa, including against worshippers, is reprehensible.”

Wong has called for security operations to be proportionate and in accordance with international law.

“Events in recent days are urgent reminders of the need for leaders to work together to foster the conditions necessary for tolerance and peace,” she said.

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