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Palestinians seen today at the border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt in Rafah Alamy Stock Photo

Tánaiste seeking 35 Irish citizens in Gaza to be evacuated via Egypt 'as early as possible'

The Department of Foreign Affairs has not been notified of any Irish citizens being included in the first group to be evacuated from Gaza into Egypt.

LAST UPDATE | 1 Nov 2023

TÁNAISTE MICHEÁL MARTIN said he wants the 35 Irish citizens who are currently in Gaza to be included in evacuation efforts “as early as possible”.

The Rafah border crossing opened today to allow foreigners and dual nationals to flee the besieged region.

It’s the first time Egypt has opened the Rafah crossing since the Israel-Hamas war began on 7 October.

It was not immediately clear how many people managed to leave via Rafah on Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, but live footage from the scene showed crowds of people entering the Palestinian side of the terminal.

Foreign governments say there are passport holders from 44 countries, as well as 28 agencies, including UN bodies, living in the Gaza Strip where 2.4 million people have endured more than three weeks of unrelenting Israeli bombardment.

However, the Department of Foreign Affairs has not been notified of any Irish citizens being included in this first group.

A spokesperson said the Department is “urgently seeking to have Irish people included in subsequent evacuations”.

Earlier, Martin has said he was shocked by Israel’s strike on Gaza’s largest refugee camp yesterday and said it was unjustifiable in his view.

Speaking on The Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk this morning, Martin said yesterday’s attack by Israel on the Jabaliya refugee camp was not a proportional response and highlights the need for a ceasefire.

According to Israel, the strike killed at least 47 people yesterday – including a Hamas commander involved in the 7 October attacks.

Hamas said seven hostages from its 7 October attacks, including three foreign passport holders, were killed in the strike.

“I was shocked by that strike on the Jabaliya refugee camp and the deaths of many, many civilians…Whole families destroyed, killed. Fathers talking about losing their children. 

“It’s horrific, it’s not justifiable and in our view, it adds pressure to the need to have a humanitarian pause here, a humanitarian ceasefire to allow aid to get in,” he said. 

‘Issue of proportionality’

The Tánaiste said Israel has the right to “go after Hamas” but said there is an “issue of proportionality” because when you bomb a refugee camp there is “no doubt” many civilians will die. 

“The pressure is so great on the civilian population now and the United Nations agencies are saying to us that this is a human catastrophe happening before our very eyes that it demands a pause in the initial phase.

“Nobody is saying that Israel does not have a right to go after Hamas after the murder of so many Israeli civilians,” Martin said.

He added that there is a moral question and a legal question when it comes to the targets chosen by Israel. 

“In my view, what is Israel saying that if we take out a commander of Hamas and some underground tunnels that that’s worth so many hundred lives, is that the moral question that is being put before us?

“I’m very clear on what side I’m on that you cannot knowingly take out hundreds of civilians that are not Hamas because of the cowardly and unacceptable and illegal use of civilians as human shields,” Martin said.

The Tánaiste said he believes that fundamentally the current war needs to lead to a political track “where there is once and for all a determined attempt to try and resolve the fundamentals of a Palestinian state that lives in harmony alongside the state of Israel”. 

He said he does not see this happening in the short-term but added that he does sense a collective view internationally that things cannot return to the way they were once there is a de-escalation of violence. 

“In the meantime, we have to focus on the humanitarian plight of those living in Gaza,” he said.

The Tánaiste also recalled his recent visit to Israel in September and said it was “quite depressing” leaving because the situation was “clearly becoming worse”.

Irish troops in Lebanon

Later, Martin told RTÉ radio  that Irish peacekeeping troops in Lebanon will continue to be placed there within the UNIFIL operation as normal despite fears of a regional escalation in violence.  

“Our job is to keep the peace, our job is to look after civilians in the event of any increased escalation,” he said. 

“We’ve been here before in the 70s and early 2000s when there was a war going on and it’s something we don’t want to see of course and part of the conversations I’ve been having and the general consensus is that everything must be done to avoid regional escalation in Lebanon or elsewhere,” he said.

Egypt yesterday condemned the strike on Jabalia camp “in the strongest terms”, warning against “the consequences of the continuation of these indiscriminate attacks that target defenceless civilians” in a foreign ministry statement.

Internet and phone networks were down across the Gaza Strip today, the Palestinian telecommunications agency said, in the second such blackout in the besieged territory in less than a week.

Global network monitor Netblocks confirmed that Gaza “is in the midst of a new internet blackout with high impact to the last remaining major operator, Paltel.

“The incident will be experienced as a total loss of telecommunications by most residents,” it said in a post on X.

A Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson said that while the Department is in regular communication with Irish citizens on the ground in Gaza, there are “ongoing communication challenges”.

Martin told RTÉ: “Communications over the last 48 hours in particular became much more difficult, with internet and all communications cut off, as the Israeli army began their incursion into Gaza and their bombing again, so that has made things challenging.”

-With additional reporting from Jane Matthews and © AFP 2023