Tanaiste describes scenes in Gaza as ‘devastating and catastrophic’

The Tanaiste has described the scenes in Gaza as “devastating and catastrophic”, saying he wants a consensus from the UN Security Council towards an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.

Micheal Martin made the comments after a UN official overseeing aid to Gaza told the Minister for Foreign Affairs and his EU counterparts that humanitarian aid could not be distributed without the help of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

A number of countries have suspended funding to the agency after some of its staff were allegedly linked to Hamas.

Sigrid Kaag, the UN aid and reconstruction co-ordinator for Gaza, told the foreign leaders on Monday about conditions for people living in the Gaza Strip.

Cross-border projects
Tanaiste Micheal Martin has described the scenes in Gaza as ‘devastating and catastrophic’ (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Martin said she gave a “very objective but heart-rendering presentation” of life for Palestinians.

“The situation is devastating and catastrophic, she was very clear that any military operation into Rafah would have the most devastating of consequences for the people there,” Mr Martin said.

He added: “1.5 million people crowded into a small corner of a highly densely populated area who have been moved from north to the centre, from to the centre to the south.

“She (Ms Kaag) also made it very, very clear to the 27 ministers that humanitarian aid could not be distributed without UNRWA and that it was wishful thinking to suggest that it could and she was emphatic about that reality.”

He added: “We would appreciate it if we could get a consensus on the Security Council towards an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and the release of all hostages and for Hamas to lay down its arms.

Mr Martin also said there was “deep frustration” after Hungary blocked EU foreign ministers from sending a warning to Israel not to attack Rafah in southern Gaza.

“All 26 member states wanted to move forward with sanctions at EU level, which will be stronger because that will enable, not just a travel ban but to do an asset freeze,” Mr Martin added.

“Individual member states do not have the national competence to do an asset freeze, which was the legal advice given to us.

“Different countries have competencies to do travel bans, some countries may not have the instruments to do a travel ban.

“We would still do work to try and persuade Hungary to join with us in respect of significant sanctions at EU level, which would be far more impactful.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said on Tuesday that he received a response from European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen following his letter expressing concern about Gaza.

He said it was not a “detailed response”.

In a joint letter sent earlier this month, Mr Varadkar and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez called for an urgent review of whether Israel is complying with its human rights obligations under the EU-Israel trade agreement.

Mr Martin said the letter was discussed at the EU foreign affairs meeting, and that the EU commission is expected to respond to it soon.

Mr Martin said that others are “quite interested in this as well and are quite supportive”.

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