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Tuesday, 23 March 2004
Page: 26893

Mr KING (2:02 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister inform the House of the government's response to the death of the Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip yesterday? Does the government have any travel advice for Australians in Israel and in the Palestinian territories?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —First, I thank the honourable member for Wentworth for his question. This is an issue of great interest to him and certainly to many of his constituents in the electorate of Wentworth. Israel has now confirmed responsibility for the death of the Hamas founder and so-called spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, who was killed in Gaza yesterday. As I have consistently said, this government strongly supports Israel's right to defend itself from terrorism, and Hamas is a terrorist organisation. The government listed it as a proscribed organisation for the purposes of asset freezing in December 2001. On 9 December 2003 Hamas's military wing was proscribed under separate criminal legislation, which makes membership of the Hamas military wing here in Australia illegal. Hamas has used suicide bombers to target and murder many innocent Israelis. Sheik Ahmed Yassin supported these actions—he said so on many occasions.

Having said all that, let me make it clear that I do regret the use of targeted assassinations. This government does not support targeted assassinations. I am concerned that the killing of such a high-profile Palestinian leader will simply lead to further violence and the loss of innocent life—not that we, of course, would in any way condone that. The perspective of the Australian government is to urge calm and to call on both sides to exercise maximum restraint at this difficult time. Violence, after all, will not settle the Middle East dispute. The long-term interests of both sides rest in the resumption of negotiations under the internationally endorsed road map and building on what was agreed initially in the road map.

As far as the honourable member's question on travel advisory is concerned, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade continues to urge all Australians in Israel to exercise extreme caution, and if concerned about their safety they should consider departure. Australians should consider carefully their need to travel to Israel at this time. DFAT further advises that Australians should not travel to the West Bank or to the Gaza Strip. Australians in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip should leave where it is possible and safe to do so. I note that this may be difficult as the Israeli government has, for the moment, sealed off the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.