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Friday 1 December 2023 Dublin: -1°C
Hannah McCarthy Tánaiste Micheál Martin beginning his visit to Israel in Sderdot today

Micheál Martin visits home damaged in 7 October Hamas attack during trip to Israel

The Tánaiste was in Egypt yesterday to meet with officials before travelling to Israel today.

LAST UPDATE | Nov 16th 2023, 11:59 AM

TÁNAISTE AND FOREIGN Affairs Minister Micháel Martin is on an official trip to Israel today, where he is visiting towns attacked by Hamas militants on 7 October.

The attacks began just before dawn on 7 October as hundreds of Hamas gunmen poured across the border into Israel.

Hundreds of rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip as the attackers raced across fields within Israel.

From just before 7am the attackers started forcing their way into several farming communities and also stormed a festival where hundreds of young people had been dancing all night.

Israel says 25 farming communities and towns near the Gaza border were methodically attacked, among them Sderot, Ofakim and Netivot.

Israel has vowed to eradicate Hamas in retaliation for the attacks, which killed 1,200 people, most of them civilians.

Hamas is an Islamic militant group who are deemed a terrorist organisation by Israel, the US and the EU, among other powers. It has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007 after winning the 2006 Palestinian elections and taking power by force.

Micheál Martin was in Egypt yesterday to meet with officials before travelling to Israel today. He will also visit Palestine and is expected to meet with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas. 

Government sources have said one reason behind the trip, which was scheduled just this week, is to push for Irish citizens to be allowed to leave the region.

IMG_3664 Hannah McCarthy Micheál Martin meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen in Sderdot today Hannah McCarthy

Martin this morning met with Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen in Sderot.

Ayelet Shmuel, the director of the international resilience centre in Sderot, gave Martin a briefing on what happened in the Israeli town on 7 October when Hamas militants attacked.

“We have awful images of them killing a woman that was right here in her car – she was driving with two little daughters.”

“This was a battlefield with a tank in the middle,” says Shmuel who says there were 25 Hamas militants in the police station on 7 October, with over 70 in the city overall.

45 people were killed in Sderot during the attack including several Holocaust survivors who were on a bus tour that had stopped to repair a flat tyre, says Shmuel.

After the 7 October, Sderot was evacuated but around 8,000 residents have now returned from hotels elsewhere in Israel. Schools have still not reopened due to concerns over rocket attacks and the short time children would have to get to bomb shelters.

“Over 250 families lost their homes, or the homes are not liveable right now,” says Shmuel. “So even if the residents come back, they have nowhere to go to.”

IMG_3674 Hannah McCarthy Micheál Martin being shown a house in Sderot damaged by a Hamas rocket on 7 October. Hannah McCarthy

The Tánaiste was also shown a house in Sderot damaged by a Hamas rocket on 7 October.

He was later given a tour of Kibbutz Be’eri where almost 10% of the community were killed on 7 October.

Before the attack, Dublin-born Tom Hand and his eight-year-old daughter Emily lived in this kibbutz. Hand’s former wife and the mother of his two older children was killed during the attack while Emily is now believed to have been taken hostage in Gaza. 

At Kibbutz Be’eri, Martin spoke with Moshe Malaya from Zaka, a network of Jewish faith-based rescue units who helped to collect and identify the bodies of victims of the Hamas attack.

IMG_3695 Hannah McCarthy Micheál Martin being given a tour of Kibbutz Be’eri Hannah McCarthy

‘I’m begging you’

Martin also this morning met with Alon Davidi, the mayor of Sderot, at the town hall. Cohen and Israeli Ambassador to Ireland Dana Elrich also attended the meeting.

At the start of his remarks, Davidi asked “are these people here to support us?”.

Davidi described how his family experiences regular rocket attacks from Hamas in nearby Gaza, saying they had to seek cover in bomb shelters often.

“I have seven kids aged 12 to 25. Most of my children [do] not understand how to behave like normal children,” he said. 

He said Hamas destroyed their lives, outlives and the future of this area.

“I’m begging you to support Israel,” he told Martin.

The Tánaiste responded: “I’m here to see this firsthand and to listen; to seek to understand the trauma that your community has gone through and not just in horrific events over the seventh but as you said for over two decades, if not three decades, in terms of rockets.

“Ireland is unequivocal in its condemnation of the Hamas attack and will give no quarter to that form of terrorism. We are explicit in our public statements in condemning without condition the unconscionable attacks on children, on women and on innocent civilians. I don’t say that here to please anybody – that’s where I come from.”

Martin said that Ireland’s support for a two state solution should not be equated with support for Hamas and “absolutely” affirmed Israel’s right to exist – “in case that is in question”.

He noted that Irish-Israeli citizen Kim Damti had been murdered by Hamas and Emily Hand taken hostage in Gaza.

But Martin said he did not believe that a military solution would create an environment for future generations: “We may have to disagree on that – and I respect where you’re coming from – but our senses that there’s a real danger that you will radicalise opinion of future generations even more.”

While speaking to press in Jerusalem after visiting communities in southern Israel, Martin thanked Cohen for assisting Irish citizens to be evacuated from Gaza.

The Tánaiste said Cohen gave him “assurances that the majority of those citizens will be able to leave Gaza within the next three days”.

“We know that there are some coming up today – although there has been a delay in respect to the processing side,” he said.

In Gaza, Israeli troops remain in the region’s largest hospital, Al-Shifa, targeting what it said was a Hamas command centre nestled among patients, medics and the displaced.

The Gaza health ministry has claimed the death toll from the Israeli offensive on the region has now topped 11,500, including thousands of children.

Protesters have this afternoon occupied the Department of Foreign Affairs on St Stephen’s Green in Dublin calling on Martin to use his powers to call for a binding ceasefire in Gaza via the United Nations and to immediately halt all transportation of weapons through Shannon Airport. 

With reporting by Hannah McCarthy in Israel, Hayley Halpin and © AFP 2023