Irish president says response to Gaza conflict must respect international law

Irish president Michael D Higgins has called for a cessation of violence in Israel and Gaza for “the protection of the lives of innocent civilians”.

His comments came as the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs criticised a unilateral announcement from an EU commissioner which said payments under a development portfolio for Palestinians would be suspended.

In a statement, Mr Higgins said: “May I, as President of Ireland, lend my voice to those internationally that have called for an immediate end to the killing which has, since Saturday following Hamas’ attack on Israel and the response to it, included so many civilians, young people and children, as well as older members of families.

“Any attacks on innocent civilians, such as those horrific scenes witnessed at the Supernova music festival and elsewhere, are deeply reprehensible. Further attacks, and reprisals of the same degree, will lead to further loss of innocent life.

“Such actions will not lead to such a constructive approach as might achieve the necessary conditions for the co-existence of all in conditions of peace, for which we must all aspire.”

He said his thoughts are particularly with the family of 22-year-old Irish-Israel citizen Kim Damti, who is unaccounted for since the attack against Israel.

The president also said an ongoing diplomatic failure to address the conflict “is bearing a terrible fruit for all those involved”.

Mr Higgins added: “The absence of positive engagement has made a stone of the heart of so many. It should remind us that it is the responsibility of all of us to return and to engage with all of the sources of conflict, accepting the right of Israel to defend itself, and of Palestinian people to enjoy the rights to which they are entitled.

“Those international voices who have called for an end to the further loss of civilian life, for restraint, realise how difficult this is to achieve.

“Yet, if out of the worst of circumstances something is to be achieved, it requires an immediate urgent engagement by neighbours and the international bodies so as to achieve the ceasing of attacks on communities and their civilian infrastructure.

“Any response, and indeed the resolution to what is an ongoing conflict, one that has been neglected and is now manifesting itself with new horrific consequences, must be in accordance with international law, humanitarian needs and respect for the decisions of the United Nations, whom I would call upon to act with urgency.

“What the families of the civilians entrapped in these circumstances are going through must be of concern to us all.

“I join with the Irish Government in their concern for all of the civilians at risk in Israel and in Gaza and join in their call for a ceasing of the violence and the protection of the lives of innocent civilians.”

Irish Budget
Ireland’s deputy prime minister Micheal Martin (Brian Lawless/PA)

In a statement, Mr Martin said: “I am horrified by the scenes that we have witnessed over the past few days. I again unreservedly condemn the attack by Hamas on Israel.

“The deliberate and systematic targeting of civilians can never be justified. The taking of hostages, including young children and the elderly is unconscionable. They must be released immediately.

“Yesterday, I wrote to Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen to express our deep condolences. I visited Israel, the occupied Palestinian territory and Jordan just one month ago.

“It is scarcely imaginable how the lives of so many people that I met during that visit will be irrevocably scarred by this violence.

“I will discuss the situation with my EU counterparts in an emergency meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers tomorrow.

“These inhumane and senseless attacks have unleashed new horror upon innocent people in Israel and Gaza. Nothing could alleviate the heartbreak and outrage of those who have been affected by these events.

“We now have a moral and political obligation to chart a way towards a future in which these events cannot be repeated.

“This requires us to put protection of civilians at the heart of our objectives and to strive towards an international effort that can deliver a just and sustainable peace.”

The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs was also critical of a tweet from EU commissioner Oliver Varhelyi which said all payments for a Palestinian development programme “immediately suspended”.

A spokeswoman said: “It is our understanding there is no legal basis for a unilateral decision of this kind by an individual commissioner and we do not support a suspension of aid.”

The Commission later clarified that it is “launching an urgent review” of the EU’s assistance for Palestine to ensure that no EU funding “indirectly enables any terrorist organisation to carry out attacks against Israel”.

It said no payments have been suspended “as there were no payments foreseen”.

The Department of Foreign Affairs also said Ireland has a long-standing commitment to supporting humanitarian aid and development projects in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt).

“Irish funding provides emergency humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable, while also supporting the Palestinian Authority to deliver basic public services.

“Ireland has also consistently funded the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) which addresses the humanitarian and development needs of 5.7 million Palestinian refugees.

“Ireland’s funding plays a crucial role in the livelihoods and welfare of Palestinian civilians – currently up to 80% of the Palestinian population is dependent on international assistance for basic human needs.

“Ireland remains committed to delivering this vital support to Palestinian civilians and their needs should continue to be a central part of the overall response to this crisis by the international community.”

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