Australia welcomes Israel-Hamas ceasefire as ‘important progress’

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FILE PHOTO: Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese speaks during the bilateral meeting with Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo on the sidelines of the 43rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Jakarta, Indonesia, 07 September 2023. BAGUS INDAHONO/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Saturday a truce in the Israel-Hamas war marked “important progress” in the conflict, as he welcomed the release of hostages by Palestinian Islamist group Hamas.

Hamas fighters released 24 hostages on Friday during the first day of the war’s first ceasefire after guns fell silent in the Gaza Strip for the first time in seven weeks.

“Australia welcomes the release of hostages and the pause in hostilities to allow humanitarian access to Gaza,” Albanese said on social media platform X.

“Today’s developments represent important progress and Australia welcomes them.”

Australia’s government has previously urged a pause in hostilities and has strongly criticised Hamas, while calling on Israel to exercise restraint to minimise civilian casualties.

“We have consistently called for all hostages to be released, for the protection of civilian lives and for steps towards a sustainable ceasefire and a long-term, enduring peace,” Albanese said on X.

In Australia, the conflict has triggered protests from both Jewish and Palestinian groups, with thousands turning out for rallies in the country’s largest cities.