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Australia Evacuation Flights Leave Israel

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Three Australian government evacuation flights carrying 255 people have left the Israeli city of Tel Aviv bound for Dubai. 

The government in Canberra has reiterated its support for Israel and the right for it to defend itself following attacks by Hamas militants more than a week ago

Most of the passengers onboard two military planes and a commercial aircraft were Australian citizens and their family members who left Sunday for Dubai. 

Two flights that had been planned for Saturday were canceled because of fears of worsening violence in the region. 

Australia has upgraded its travel advice for the Middle East and is urging its citizens to defer non-essential travel to Lebanon. 

A similar warning about travel to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories was issued last week.

A massive Israeli military buildup is continuing near the coastal enclave of Gaza ahead of an expected ground assault against Hamas militants, who crossed the border with Israel more than a week ago to attack civilians and soldiers.

Officials have said that 1,600 Australian citizens are registered in Israel or the West Bank, and 19 in Gaza. 

Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Monday that not all the evacuation flights from Tel Aviv were full.

“There were actually empty seats on the flights,” Marles said. “So, we would really encourage Australians who are in Israel now who want to leave to take the opinions that are being made available to them.”

Australian police say that 10,000 people turned out for a pro-Palestinian rally in Melbourne Sunday, while another 6,000 attended a gathering in Sydney.  There was a heavy police presence at both events, but the authorities say the rallies were mostly peaceful. 

Large rallies have also been held in Australia in the past week by Jewish groups and other supporters of Israel.

The Australian government has reiterated its support for Israel and its right to defend itself following what Deputy Prime Minister Marles said were the “appalling terrorist attacks” by Hamas fighters on Israeli civilians and troops.

Politically, Canberra is committed to a two-state solution in which Israel and a future Palestinian state co‑exist within internationally recognized borders.