The government will deploy more Australian military forces to the Middle East in response to the deepening war crisis in Gaza.
Acting Prime Minister Richard Marles announced on Wednesday two additional RAAF planes and a small detachment of army personnel has been flown to the region as a precautionary measure.
“We're not saying we’re in the Middle East for operational reasons, but we are putting that in place, really, as a contingency to support Australian populations,” Mr Marles said on the Today show.
“Bearing in mind that this is a very volatile situation and we just don't absolutely know which way it goes from here.”
Mr Marles did not confirm specific details but said a “significant number” of additional defence force personnel has been sent to an undisclosed location.
He said two extra Royal Australian Air Force planes, a C-17 aircraft and a KC 30 tanker refueller, have been sent to help evacuate civilians stuck in the region.
This comes after four Australians were rescued after crossing the Palestinian border from the West Bank into Jordan overnight. About 79 Australian citizens are now awaiting rescue from Gaza, according to the Acting Prime Minister.
“I think the message I really want to give today is that if you are in the area in a place like Lebanon, for example, and you are looking and want to leave, you should be taking all the options that are available to you now,” Mr Marles said.
“The people we’re really concerned about are those in Gaza, where it’s a much, much more difficult situation. We’re urging those people to move south.”
“We’re working with the international community to try and establish that humanitarian corridor that we‘ve seen operating in terms of getting humanitarian goods in to Gaza through the Rafah border crossing from Egypt.”
The chief of the ADF, General Angus Campbell, warned the conflict was in its early stages.
“The conflict that we see between Israel and Hamas appears to be in its early stages, and we want to be well-positioned,” he said.
“I would very much encourage Australians to follow DFAT’s advisories in regard to travel and to pay attention to their safety.”
More than 700 Palestinians were killed in overnight Israeli air raids on Gaza on Tuesday, according Palestine’s Health Ministry.
United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths made a plea for additional aid for civilians trapped in the area overnight, posting on social media that supplies were “barely making a dent.”
This comes as Israel’s military continues to signal a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip after Hamas fighters killed at least 1,400 people in a surprise attack on southern Israel on October 7.
Mr Marles affirmed Australia’s stance of supporting Israel’s right to defend itself.
“We do respect and acknowledge that Israel has a right to defend itself and to move against Hamas. We've been making that clear from the very beginning,” he said.
“Obviously, in doing that, we urge Israel to adhere to the rules of war ... and make the protection of civilian life front and centre in all that they do.”