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File photo - The Rafah crossing point connecting southern Gaza to Egypt. Alamy Stock Photo
rafah border

23 Irish citizens have left Gaza via the Rafah crossing, as Tánaiste vows more will follow

Arrangements are in place for staff from the Irish Embassy in Cairo to meet them.

LAST UPDATE | 15 Nov 2023

A GROUP OF IRISH citizens have now made the journey out of Gaza and into Egypt via the Rafah crossing.

The group of 23 individuals included Irish citizens and their relatives. Their processing at the border took several hours. 

This is the first time that Irish citizens who have been stuck in Gaza since conflict broke out in the region have been able to leave.

Speaking in Cairo this evening, Tánaiste Micheal Martin said the 23 individuals, including children, who made the journey out of Gaza today are “in good form”.

He thanked the Egyptian government for its assistance and said today’s development was good news and that he was relieved but added that there are more Irish citizens to get out of Gaza.

The Tánaiste said he will meet with Israel’s foreign minister Eli Cohen tomorrow and “hopefully” the President of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu. 

He said he will again “stress the urgency of getting all of our citizens out as quick as we possibly can”. 

“We will work tirelessly to ensure that all Irish citizens that want to leave Gaza can do so as soon as possible,” the Tánaiste said. 

The Tánaiste is also due to meet with the Palestinian Authority tomorrow. 

He said the priority remains an immediate ceasefire and getting humanitarian aid into Gaza.

“And then we need to focus, as we have today, in some of our preliminary discussions around what happens after this war in terms of getting a political horizon and getting a pathway to peace,” Martin said.

Emily Hand

When asked for an update on the case of eight-year-old Irish-Israeli citizen Emily Hand, the Tánaiste said it is clear from his discussions with the Egyptian and Qatari authorities that securing her release from Hamas is a priority.

“There’s been a very genuine response to that and a clear commitment in all of their communications. They are prioritising the case of Emily Hand, that’s pretty clear,” he said.

He said no precise confirmation has been given in relation to Emily’s location and that no definitive proof has been received on whether she is still alive. 

The Tánaiste added that Emily’s case was discussed during his meeting with Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry today who provided an update on the work being done.

“There are wider discussions going on and there are other children as well. We think children need to be the number one priority here. And that is our focus,” he said.

Irish citizens

Speaking in the Dáil this afternoon, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar confirmed that a first group of Irish citizens and their dependents had been cleared to exit through the Rafah crossing.

The Taoiseach said in the Dáil today that he expects additional Irish citizens and dependents in Gaza to be on the list in the coming days.

Micheál Martin today said that the Irish citizens who left Gaza today are travelling to Cairo, where the Irish government has a diplomatic team on the ground, and transport. 

“Their wellbeing will be checked, and they will follow on in transit to Ireland,” Martin said. 

He added that he is highly appreciative of the role Egypt has played in getting these Irish citizens out of Gaza, but emphasised that equally, it is important that increased aid gets into Gaza, to help citizens who cannot leave. 

“We’ve met with the Palestinian Prime Minister, the Egyptian Foreign Minister also the Israeli Ambassador and I know they all had a certain role to play in making today possible and I do want to acknowledge that,” the Taoiseach added.

Not all the Irish citizens who want to leave Gaza have been included in today’s departure list but it is anticipated that they will be granted permission to leave in the coming days, if the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt remains open.

In particular, the two children of Belfast-born Khalid Al-Astal aged three and one, whose mother Ashwak Jendia died from injuries sustained by an Israeli airstrike last month have not been included in today’s list.

Irish citizen Zak Hania and his six family members also have not been included on today’s departure list. Hania was living in Al Shati camp but left northern Gaza for the southern part of the enclave, along with more than tens of thousands of fleeing Palestinian in the previous days.

The Department confirmed last night that a number Irish citizens in Gaza were expected to be notified that their names were included on a list to leave the territory.

In the list seen by The Journal, nationals from EU countries including Austria, Sweden and Spain have been included on today’s evacuation list, as well as nationals from Norway, Switzerland, Bahrain, Belarus, Russia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Kazakhstan and Moldova.

In addition, over 80 Palestinian children receiving cancer treatment at Al-Rantisi Hospital have been included.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said there is no indication that Ireland was penalised in the evacuations for its stance on the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Three Irish citizens working for the UN will remain in Gaza helping to deliver the humanitarian response in the besieged Palestinian enclave where over 11,000 people are now estimated to have died and the majority of the 2.3 million population have been displaced from their homes.

The Rafah border crossing opened on 1 November to allow foreigners and dual nationals to flee the besieged region. It was the first time Egypt has opened the Rafah crossing since the Israel-Hamas conflict began on 7 October.

With reporting by Hannah McCarthy (in Jerusalem), Hayley Halpin, Muiris O’Cearbhaill, Jane Moore, Jane Matthews and Christina Finn

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