Anthony Albanese says protest at Melbourne hotel of Israeli hostages’ relatives is ‘beyond contempt’

<span>Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP</span>
Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Anthony Albanese has condemned pro-Palestine protesters who demonstrated in a Melbourne hotel where relatives of Israeli hostages were staying, saying their actions were “beyond contempt”.

The prime minister, who met the family members earlier this week, joined other Australian political figures in denouncing the demonstration, telling parliament: “I’m appalled by the actions of these protesters and I condemn them.”

Family members of the hostages held in Gaza sought protection in a Melbourne police station on Wednesday night when the protesters entered the lobby of their hotel.

Victoria police confirmed they attended a protest in Docklands, where about 20 people walked into a hotel lobby on Spencer Street “with flags and signs” about 10pm.

“The group were moved on by police,” they said in a statement. “No one was injured during the incident.”

The Israeli delegation had travelled to Canberra earlier in the week and was due to visit Sydney on Thursday as part of a week-long tour to meet politicians and community members.

The Guardian understands the delegation had attended an event at Mount Scopus Memorial College before returning to their hotel with officials, including Israel’s deputy ambassador. The group heard shouting and saw people holding signs in the lobby, so travelled to the police station where they remained for some time before returning to the hotel.

Images shared on social media showed a group of protesters with a megaphone and holding up a large sign that read, “Stop arming Israel. Free Palestine”.

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The Israeli embassy said in a statement the delegation was “made to feel unsafe” by the protest.

“Despite this event, the delegation will continue their Australian tour and share their plea for support for their family members who remain hostages to Hamas terrorists.

“Ambassador [Amir] Maimon expressed deep disappointment at the feeling of insecurity experienced by the members of the Israeli delegation.”

In a post on social media, the anonymous group behind the protest said it was attempting to confront officials from the Israeli embassy “who were scheduled to be meeting there at that time”.

“Crowne Plaza is well aware of this,” the statement read.

The statement said the protesters were committed to nonviolence, but accused the Israeli delegation of “seeking military support and war”.

Albanese said his government had consistently raised concern “about the loss of innocent lives – Israelis and Palestinians” and he acknowledged that “Australians of different backgrounds and different faiths are hurting at the moment”.

“But what we saw last night in Melbourne at a hotel in Docklands goes beyond the right of people to peacefully protest in our democratic country,” he told parliament on Thursday.

“Why people would make the conscious decision to hold a protest where the families of these people were staying is beyond my comprehension and beyond contempt.

“I express on behalf of the Australian government our regret to those families who we met with – this is not the Australian way.”

The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, backed the prime minister’s statement and told parliament the protest was “an act of depravity”.

The foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, told the Senate the protest was “disturbing and distressing” and that it did nothing to advance the cause of peace.

“My first response to those who engage in those protests is to have some decency,” she said.

The Victorian premier, Jacinta Allan, said in a statement she had met a mother among the group whose son had been murdered and condemned the “extreme behaviour” of the protesters “in the strongest possible terms”.

“I condemn the antisemitism. I condemn targeting people in their moment of grief,” she said.

The Victorian Liberal MP David Southwick, who met the delegation at the police station, claimed private security had to escort the group upon returning to the hotel.

“Where were the police? Where was the response?” he said on Thursday morning.

He said the group spent three hours at the police station “until it was safe to return back to their hotel”.

Southwick said the delegation felt supported from both sides of politics after several days of meetings, but after Wednesday night felt “deserted”.

“There’s no other word to describe it … We’ve heard those accounts [of their loved ones], they relive those stories and then last night they were traumatised again from these agitators with no purpose.”

Speaking in state parliament on Thursday afternoon, Allan and Southwick both condemned the actions of the protestors. Southwick said he would work “whatever way we can to ensure that never happens” again.

Related: Israel-Hamas war: ceasefire extended for a day amid last-minute mediation efforts

“Ultimately, we need a response,” he said. “And I would say that we need to do whatever it takes – more police [or] more powers.”

The Victorian police minister, Anthony Carbines, labelled the protest “intimidating”, “appalling” and “bullying”.

The federal MP Zoe Daniel, who also met the Israeli delegation in Canberra earlier in the week, said they had “shown great strength and enormous courage in coming all the way to Australia from Israel to give us firsthand accounts of the ordeal they and their families are enduring”.

Daniel said she had referred her concern about the protest to the home affairs minister, Clare O’Neil.

Israel’s military said early on Thursday that a truce with Hamas would continue into a seventh day, minutes before it was due to expire, as mediators continued to work towards further exchanges of hostages for Palestinian prisoners.