ADF personnel for Beirut and Cyprus - Monday 20 July 2006

The Prime Minister, John Howard, said on July 20, “We are very, very concerned about the situation of Australians who have been caught up in this war, and from Friday [July 14] when we established a crisis centre in Canberra we have been working overtime to get them out. As I speak a total of 315 Australians have been evacuated and arrangements in a whole lot of other ways are in hand to evacuate more. It is a chaotic situation, there’s no doubt about that and it changes from hour to hour. We are hopeful that more people will be evacuated in the next few days, but I hesitate to be any more specific than that because things can go wrong at the last minute.”

Australian Defence Force specialists have been deployed to support the evacuation of Australian nationals from Lebanon. A team of 19 personnel left Sydney on July 20 for Beirut and Cyprus to assist Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade staff. Two additional evacuee processing teams, a command element, and importantly liaison officers, totaling approximately 65 personnel left on July 21 to support evacuation operations. The ADF deployment includes movements’ officers, health specialists, linguists and evacuee processing teams.

The Australian Defence Force has been engaged in planning with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to support the evacuation of Australian nationals.

Opposition spokesman on foreign affairs Kevin Rudd said on July 19, “The situation in the Middle East remains in a state of crisis. There is an urgent need for external diplomatic intervention. What we don’t want is for this crisis to escalate into a general regional war. If that were to happen, the impact on regional security would be atrocious and the impact on the global economy would be disastrous.

“The key question now is what is to be done by the United Nations Special Representatives who have been dispatched to the region by Kofi Annan and also the need for diplomatic intervention on the part of the United States. It is critical also that Syria and Iran pull in Hezbollah from their current activities along the border with Northern Israel.

“We need now to see a ceasefire in this escalating conflict: a ceasefire which involves Hezbollah and Hamas ceasing their rocket attacks against Israel, the return of Israeli soldiers and also Israel ceasing all hostilities. This ceasefire becomes increasingly necessary given the appalling loss of civilian life. On top of that, we need to see the disbanding and disarmament of Hezbollah and Hamas, Hezbollah as required by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559.

“Also, we need to see the government of Israel assisting the Australian Government in providing for safe passage of Australians out of this war zone. On that point I would just add that we are deeply concerned about the safety and security of Australians in Southern Lebanon. …”

For more information,
Prime Ministerís office (02) 6277 7700

Minister for Defence (02) 6277 7800 Department (02) 6265 3343

Minister for Foreign Affairs (02) 6277 7500 Departmental (02) 6261 1555