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Australians wanting to leave Israel have been warned to “take the first flight offered to you” amid a rapidly deteriorating situation.

Hundreds of Australians have already been ferried to safety out of Israel by government-assisted repatriation flights.

There were tears and hugs at Sydney’s International Airport when the first flight, loaded with 222 people, landed on Tuesday.

Further flights will touch down in the days ahead, but the Australian government has paused its repatriation efforts.

Defence assets will stay in the region in case there is further need, but Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil has urged Australians wanting to leave Israel to not hesitate.

She said there were still about 1200 Australians in Israel still in contact with the government, but that there had been evacuation flights “coming back with empty seats on them” because people who indicated they wanted to leave “later decide not to”.

“We are urging people, if you are in Israel at the moment and you want to leave, leave immediately,” she told Channel 7.

“Take the first flight that is offered to you. Don’t think about other options, or that you might wait and see.

“The situation in the Middle East is deteriorating rapidly. We are urging people, if you want to leave, leave.

“If you and your family want to leave Israel, take the first flight that is offered to you and get back to Australia as quick as you can.”

Ms O’Neil said the government was focusing its efforts on the 46 Australians stuck in Gaza.

“We’re doing everything we can. We hope that we’ll be able to report back something positive,” she said.

There is currently no way out of the besieged strip with the Rafah crossing into Egypt closed.

Humanitarian aid cannot get into Palestine, and water, food and electricity is running low because of Israel’s blockade.

The situation in Gaza is rapidly deteriorating and a humanitarian crisis is afoot. A major hospital was hit on Tuesday (local time), leaving at least 500 people dead, according to reports.

At this stage, neither Israel or Hamas have taken responsibility for the strike.

Independent MP Zoe Daniels said if Israel was behind the attack, it amounted to a “war crime”.

“Protection of civilians is critical at a time of conflict and within the international rules of war,” she told ABC Radio.

“Israel has a right to self defence within these parameters, but we have to be careful that a sort of tit-for-tat escalation could be very, very difficult to rein in.”

The decades-long conflict descended into war earlier this month after Hamas – a terrorist organisation – launched a surprise and unprovoked offensive against Israel.

Hamas killed hundreds of Israelis and took about 200 people hostage.

Israel has retaliated with aerial bombardment, killing thousands of Palestinians, and warned of a looming ground offensive.

US President Joe Biden will travel to Israel on Wednesday.

Back home in Australia, Israeli Ambassador Amir Maimon addressed the Coalition in their joint party room on Tuesday.

Senator Jane Hume said Mr Maimon had spoken to them about the “dire situation” in Israel.

“They’re very grateful for Australia’s unequivocal support, and that is exactly what they will get,” Senator Hume said.

She urged the government to do everything it could to get the 46 Australians in Gaza to safety.

It comes a day after Labor senator Fatima Payman – a devout Muslim – said while Israel had a right to defend itself, it “cannot equate to the annihilation of Palestinian civilians”.

“Israeli missiles strike residential dwellings, civilians, multistorey apartments, health facilities as well as places of worship, indiscriminately killing men, women and children. We must condemn it,” she told the Senate on Tuesday.

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By Rahul

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