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Irish premier calls for ‘humanitarian ceasefire’ in Israel-Hamas conflict

The Taoiseach said the possibility that people could run out of water in Gaza in the next few days ‘could not be allowed to happen’.

By David Young
Wednesday 18 October 2023 15:19 BST
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was speaking in the Dail parliament in Dublin (Brian Lawless/PA)
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was speaking in the Dail parliament in Dublin (Brian Lawless/PA) (PA Wire)

Ireland’s premier has called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar branded Tuesday’s bombing of the al Ahli hospital in Gaza as an “atrocity” but said an independent investigation was needed to establish who was responsible.

Deputy premier Micheal Martin has also called for an independent investigation and said the International Criminal Court would have a role in determining whether it was a war crime.

Hamas has blamed an Israeli air strike for the blast that claimed almost 500 lives. But Israel claims the devastation was caused by a misfiring rocket launched by Palestinian militants and released imagery and communications intercepts it claims supports that case.

Mr Varadkar faced questions on the attack in the Dail parliament in Dublin on Wednesday, with Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald and Labour leader Ivana Bacik both pressing the Taoiseach on the issue.

“We condemn without equivocation the attack on the hospital last night,” he said.

“We will do so at EU level and we will do so at UN level as well. It was an atrocity. It certainly violated the rules of war. Beyond rules, just (violating) basic humanity that civilians and hospitals should ever be targeted by anyone in any conflict or any campaign of war or terror.

“And it might yet prove to be a war crime, that’s yet to be determined, and I agree that an independent international investigation is required, if at all possible.

“In terms of what we’re calling for as a government. Very clearly we’re calling for three things to happen now: for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to be observed by all parties to the conflict, all parties to the conflict; that Hamas should release the hostages that it is holding, and to do so without conditions at all; and third, that Israel should turn the power and the water back on to relieve the burden on Palestinian citizens living in Gaza, and to allow the creation of humanitarian corridors.

“The possibility that people could run out of water in the next few days, that a largely medieval disease like cholera could stalk Gaza again is unthinkable and can’t be allowed to happen.”

On the hospital attack, Mr Varadkar added: “We do not yet know the details, all the facts about the attack, whether it was deliberate or intentional, whether it was carried out by the Israeli Defence Force or Palestinian Hamas or Islamic Jihad, and we do need an independent investigation if that is at all possible.

“But what is certain is the Palestinian civilians here are the innocent victims. That is absolutely certain.”

Ms McDonald welcomed Mr Varadkar’s call for a ceasefire, but she challenged him to specifically condemn Israel’s actions in Gaza.

“We need ceasefires, we need peace,” she said.

“We need an end to the bombardment and the blockade and the suffering inflicted mercilessly by Israel on the Gazan population.”

Mr Varadkar responded: “We know from recent history, and indeed the history of the past few decades, that both the Israeli Defence Force and Hamas and Islamic Jihad are all capable of terrible atrocities. We know that. And, as a government, we condemn them unreservedly and unequivocally. And I want to be very clear about that.”

Ms Bacik accused Israel of “horrific breaches” of international law in Gaza.

“Just as our legal framework at international level criminalises the barbaric acts of Hamas, which I have condemned, also it provides a clear framework which should be governing Israel’s response,” she said.

There's no space for equivocation on this Taoiseach and I believe that Ireland and the Irish government needs to be at the forefront of calls at EU and UN level calling for Israel to respect international humanitarian law

Labour leader Ivana Bacik

“Any nation in any armed conflict, no matter what the provocation they claim, any nation is bound in law to comply with internationally established laws of war, international laws, the Geneva Convention. And this much is evident: that the besiegement and bombardment of civilians amounts to clear breaches of those laws and those conventions.

“There’s no space for equivocation on this Taoiseach and I believe that Ireland and the Irish government needs to be at the forefront of calls at EU and UN level calling for Israel to respect international humanitarian law. And we need to speak with a united voice on that.”

Earlier, Tanaiste Micheal Martin unreservedly condemned the deadly strike on the hospital.

Also calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, he said the suffering of the Gazan people was “immense” and “extraordinary”.

“Ultimately, the determination of any given incident of a breach of international law or a war crime would be a matter for the International Criminal Court,” he told RTE Radio.

“All efforts have been on getting a humanitarian corridor established through the Rafah crossing.

“We don’t have direct authority to execute that, quite clearly, but we are of the view that it’s already too late.

“It’s absolutely vital that water and food and medical supplies, because the hospitals are unbelievably stretched, get in there and also it enables citizens to get out of Gaza, Irish citizens, citizens from all over the world, who are in Gaza who are anxious to exit through the Rafah crossing.

“I believe there is intensive ongoing discussions to get that done,” he said, adding that he would like to believe that this was “more likely” after Tuesday night’s attack.

Mr Martin said the release of all hostages by Hamas without conditions “would help” with those discussions.

He said the evacuation of Irish citizens and other foreign citizens from Gaza depended on the opening of the Rafah crossing.

Israel’s ambassador to Ireland said that the “terrible” strike against a hospital in Gaza was a war crime, and blamed the deaths on a failed rocket launch on Islamic jihadists.

Asked about allowing humanitarian aid to be brought into Gaza, Dana Ehrlich said Hamas was to blame for the conditions in Gaza.

“I think they are deprived of their basic conditions because of Hamas,” she said.

“Unfortunately, time and time again in the past, we’ve seen that Hamas abuses that help, that aid that we supply to the Gaza Strip.

“They abuse not just equipment but the trucks themselves in order to smuggle out their people. Can anyone guarantee that they don’t smuggle out our hostages that are now in Gaza?”

“There are a lot of components right now within this horrible situation,” she told RTE Radio.

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