Radio interview, 2GB - Breakfast

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The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

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02 6277 7800

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25 October 2023

SUBJECTS: Operation BEECH; Israel-Hamas conflict

BEN FORDHAM, HOST: My thanks to the Defence Minister Richard Marles, who's just phoned in after revealing the Australian Defence Force has been deployed to the Middle East. Mr. Marles. Good morning.

ACTING PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Good morning, Ben. How are you?

FORDHAM: Good. So, what's the purpose of this deployment?

MARLES: Well, the purpose is to provide a contingency to support Australians who are in the region if this gets worse. So, we're sending an additional two aircraft over to join the one aircraft we currently have in the Middle East, taking the total to three. I actually really hope this doesn't get used, but we're all watching what's playing out in Israel and Gaza. No one can be certain as to whether or not this escalates. If it does, we want to make sure that we are as prepared as we possibly can be for what is a significant Australian population who are in the wider region. But in doing this, I guess we really want to make this point very clear: if you're in the region, if you're in a place like Lebanon and you want to leave, don't rely on this. Take commercial options, make your departure, because this is a volatile situation and it could change very quickly.

FORDHAM: We've already had some of those commercial rescue flights that have been undertaken, but you're concerned about people in Gaza and also the West Bank who are saying they want to get out of there. What, they're not able to leave?

MARLES: Yeah. So, Gaza and West Bank are their own situation and really, these aircraft, I don’t think are going to be able to support them. But we are working very closely in relation to those people in Gaza and the West Bank. There are 51 Australians on the West Bank who we're working with. We've been able to have four of them leave overland into Jordan. There are some options there and we're working very closely with them. There are 79 in Gaza and they occupy our greatest attention right now. I mean, they're obviously in the most difficult situation. We're working to try and establish a humanitarian corridor with international community in southern Gaza. We've seen humanitarian supplies go in across the Rafah crossing from Egypt, but at this point, we haven't seen any people be able to leave Gaza and that's obviously what we're trying to work on. We're very much encouraging those 79 people to get the southern Gaza in accordance with the warning from Israel so that they're not in northern Gaza, which seems to be the focus of Israel's attention.

FORDHAM: Are we offering military support to Israel?

MARLES: No, that's not what's going on here. What we're doing is making sure that we have the presence there, so that if we are in a position where if there is a situation where we're needing to evacuate Australian citizens from a wider region, that we have the capacity to do that. And so that's the contingency that we're putting in place.

FORDHAM: And Minister, have we received any requests from Israel for assistance?

MARLES: No. I mean, we've obviously made our position very clear in relation to Israel, that we support Israel's right to defend itself. The attacks that we saw from Hamas a few weeks ago were terrorist attacks. They were not made against combatants, they were made against innocent people, that's murder. And Israel does have a right to defend itself and to move against Hamas. Obviously, we expect Israel to follow the rules of war and to make the protection of civilian life front and centre in the way in which they go about their actions. But Israel does have a right to defend itself. It's not sought any assistance from us in doing that.

FORDHAM: Minister, we appreciate your time. Thanks for jumping on the line at short notice.

MARLES: Thanks, Ben.


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