Labor facing internal demands to call for full ceasefire in Gaza

About 40 branches in New South Wales have now passed motions demanding a full ceasefire

Daniel Hurst Foreign affairs and defence correspondent

The Albanese government is coming under significant and increasing pressure from within to take a stronger line on a full ceasefire in Gaza.

About 40 Labor party branches in New South Wales have now passed motions demanding a full ceasefire.

Insiders have said, while this was not yet a majority of Labor party branches within the state, the increasing internal agitation for a ceasefire reflected growing concerns among the party’s grassroots. Many branches had yet to hold meetings.

“The fact that so many across a wide geographic spread have passed quickly in just over a month, including in the prime minister’s own branch, shows there’s a depth of feeling among the Labor rank and file about this issue,” said a party insider.

The Albanese government indicated on Wednesday that it would support further extensions to the temporary truce between Israel and Hamas to allow the release of hostages and delivery of “much-needed” aid to Gaza.

While not yet calling for a full ceasefire, the government has expressed concern about the “harrowing number of civilian deaths, including children”.

“Australia wants to see continued steps towards a sustainable ceasefire, but it cannot be one-sided,” a spokesperson for the foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, said.

Relatives and friends of some of the hostages held by Hamas visited Parliament House on Tuesday to share their horror at the terrorist attacks of 7 October.

Senior government minister Tony Burke speaks during question time

On Wednesday, a 15-strong delegation of Labor party rank-and-file members – predominately from western Sydney – travelled to Canberra to lobby MPs to back a full ceasefire.

The president of Palestinian Christians in Australia, Suzan Wahhab, who led the delegation, said she felt disappointed with the Australian government’s response to the “humanitarian catastrophe that is engulfing the whole of Gaza”.

She argued the government had failed to fully embrace “language of inclusion”.

“We’re not anti-the Israeli side, because we know that they suffered – that they’re suffering right now as well – but we want you to see our side, we want you to see how many people have died,” Wahhab told reporters.

Twelve hostages released and 30 Palestinians freed in latest ceasefire exchange – video
Twelve hostages released and 30 Palestinians freed in latest ceasefire exchange – video

The Australian government has repeatedly affirmed Israel’s right to respond to the Hamas attacks of 7 October, when about 1,200 people were killed and 240 others were taken hostage, but has also urged the country to adhere to the rules of war and prevent civilian deaths.

At least 14,800 Palestinians, including thousands of children, have been killed in the Gaza Strip since Israel began its bombardment and ground operation of the besieged territory, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

The vice-president of Labor’s Auburn-Lidcombe branch, Dr Mohamad Assoum, said many within Australia’s Arab, Muslim and Palestinian communities were feeling “disenfranchised with our political system at this point in time”.

“We feel marginalised, we feel isolated. I have received death threats online, just by posting facts about who are the children in Gaza, what are the health conditions,” Assoum said.

Greens senator David Shoebridge

Guardian Australia has previously reported that some Labor MPs are experiencing “red-hot anger” in their communities over the government’s reticence to call for a ceasefire.

The Israeli government has argued a ceasefire would merely give Hamas time to harden its positions.

While the Greens and Labor branches continue to press the Australian government to push for a ceasefire, the Coalition has argued all hostages “should be released unconditionally as part of a surrender that sees Hamas lay down its terrorist campaign”.

Wong’s spokesperson reiterated on Wednesday that Hamas had “shown contempt for international law” but also noted that “for democracies, the standards we seek and accept are high”.

The spokesperson said Australia had “called on Israel to honour its commitment to uphold international law and protect innocent lives”.

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