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Gillard condemns attacks on Israel

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Bianca Hall

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Gaza braces for Israeli ground assault

Israeli forces are reportedly mobilising for a ground offensive as rocket fire and air strikes mount on the Israel-Gaza border.

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Prime Minister Julia Gillard has condemned the attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip, saying the rocket attacks will not help the Palestinian campaign for self-determination.

In a statement, Ms Gillard said Australia was gravely concerned by the escalating conflict.

''The government condemns the repeated rocket and mortar attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip and calls on Hamas to cease these immediately,'' Ms Gillard said.

''Australia supports Israel's right to defend itself against these indiscriminate attacks. Such attacks on Israel's civilian population are utterly unacceptable.''

She urged both Israel and Hamas to exercise restraint, and said any escalation in the attacks by Hamas ''will not serve the interests of the Palestinian people or their cause for self-determination and statehood''.

''The government of Australia will work earnestly with other countries to end further attacks from Gaza and to encourage a de-escalation of this conflict,'' she said.

''We encourage regional countries, particularly Egypt, to support efforts to restore peace.

''The only way forward is a two-state solution based on direct negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.''

In Sydney, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott told reporters that Israel's actions were justified.

''Israel has a right to self-defence and Israel has been under pretty serious attack from elements in Gaza for quite some time now,'' Mr Abbott said.

''The authorities in Gaza plainly are not stopping those attacks and it's perfectly appropriate for Israel to take strong steps in response.

''Australia should do what it can to ensure the countries of the Middle East recognise and acknowledge Israel's right to exist within secure borders.''

Foreign Minister Bob Carr and Environment Minister Tony Burke urged restraint.

But Mr Burke said there was little Australia could do in practical terms.

''We can't pretend that a nation like ourselves is going to be able to ride in and simply fix this,'' Mr Burke told the Seven Network on Friday.

''But the call for restraint should be made by Australia, it's being made by countries around the world, because ultimately until you end up with a two-state solution the (alternative) will always be conflict.''

Israel has carried out 24 hours of air strikes on Gaza, killing 15 Palestinians, at least seven of them Hamas militants, while over the same period, militants fired more than 200 rockets at Israel, killing three people and injuring 16, AFP has reported.

with AAP

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