Amid the uproar surrounding the use of forged Australian passports by the killers of senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai, Australian media are giving extensive coverage to Canberra's decision to abstain from voting in the UN on an Arab League proposal by which Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will report on progress made by both Israel and the Palestinians in independent investigations of Operation Cast Lead.
The resolution was passed by a vast majority, with 98 countries in favor, 31 abstaining, and seven opposed. It asks Ban to file his progress report in five months.
Three months ago, Australia voted against a similar resolution which sought to endorse the Goldstone report - a UN-sponsored report which accused Israel and Hamas of war crimes.
On Thursday Canberra summoned Israeli ambassador Yuval Rotem and warned that friendly ties were at risk if Israel was found to have sponsored or condoned the tampering of three Australian passports, linked to the al-Mabhouh assassination. A few days later Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said his center-left government had an "absolutely hard line" on defending the integrity of its passport system and took seriously allegations that suspected Mossad assassins had stolen Australian identities.
"That is why the foreign minister has called in the Israeli ambassador and asked for an explanation," Rudd told reporters.
"Thus far we are not satisfied with that explanation," he said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith was quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald as saying that the change in Australia's position was not related to the passport scandal and that Australia abstained because the latest resolution did not specifically endorse the Goldstone report.
'Our vote on the resolution was neither determined nor influenced by recent events,'' he said. ''The Australian government always considers UN resolutions on a case-by-case basis and on their merits. Australia abstained on this resolution because, unlike previous resolutions, it did not endorse the Goldstone report.''
However, a Foreign Affairs Ministry source told the Herald there was no doubt the decision to abstain was intended as a sign to Israel not to take Australian support for granted.
''A number of things made it easier for us to switch our vote,'' the source told the newspaper.
''Firstly, the Americans helped the Palestinians to soften the wording of this resolution compared to the last one. Secondly, a number of other countries had indicated that they were toughening their own positions on Goldstone. But there is no question that the debacle surrounding our passports being used in Dubai helped to make up the government's mind to abstain. The final decision was taken late on Friday, Australian time, just a few hours before the vote," said the official.
''Our pattern in the past has been to vote with the US when it comes to Israel, to show as much support for Israel as possible, he added, ''We were also aware that the UK's decision to vote in favor of the resolution was influenced by the fact that so many of their citizens had been caught up in the Dubai assassination.''
AFP contributed to the report