Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar (file photo) Sasko Lazarov/
Rafah crossing

Varadkar doesn't regret Israel 'revenge' remark amid attempts to get Irish citizens out of Gaza

The Taoiseach said the Government is doing its best to get around 40 Irish citizens out of Gaza.

LAST UPDATE | Nov 6th 2023, 4:20 PM

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said he does not regret saying the Israeli response to the 7 October Hamas attack was becoming “something more approaching revenge”.

He was today asked if he believed the comment had hampered diplomatic relations with Israel over the exit of Irish citizens from Gaza.

Speaking to reporters in county Cork, Varadkar said he did not believe that it had. Asked if he regretted using the word revenge, he replied: “I don’t, no.”

He later said: “When the Tánaiste [Micheál Martin] and I take the positions that we do, we do so because we think it’s the right thing.

“Ultimately, this is about civilians. Israeli civilians who died and were injured, and also Palestinians who are now experiencing a very difficult situation.

“We’ve always taken a view since day one that we condemn Hamas’ attack unequivocally, no excuse for it whatsoever.

Israel has a right to defend itself, but it has to do so in a way that’s proportionate and in line with humanitarian law.

Varadkar said the Government is doing its “best” to get around 40 Irish citizens out of Gaza.

He told reporters: “There are in and around 40 Irish citizens in Gaza and we’re doing our best to get them out.

“We’re doing that through contact with the Israeli authorities, but also with governments in the area who may have influence, the government of Egypt, the government of Jordan.

“The Tánaiste has been in touch with Iranian authorities too. So, very much top of our mind at the moment; these Irish citizens held in Gaza for one reason or another, and very much a priority for us to do anything we can to facilitate their release.”

No list today

Earlier, Justice Minister Helen McEntee said it was unlikely that any citizens will be allowed to leave Gaza today. She told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland there is no list of evacuees for today.

McEntee stated: “We don’t have any further information as to what number we might be on a list or where Irish citizens might be on that list.”

Last week, the Rafah border crossing opened to allow foreign passport holders and wounded Palestinians to flee the besieged region.

Hundreds of people were able to cross the border into Egypt, but no Irish citizens were included in these groups of evacuees.

rafah-palestinian-territories-02nd-nov-2023-people-wait-at-the-border-crossing-between-the-gaza-strip-and-egypt-in-rafah-palestinians-with-foreign-passports-continue-to-cross-into-egypt-amid-the People wait at the border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt in Rafah on Thursday Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Gaza’s Hamas government suspended the evacuation of foreign passport holders to Egypt over the weekend, after Israel refused to allow some injured Palestinians to be evacuated.

“The terminal is closed because Israel prohibits the wounded from crossing into Egypt for treatment,” a source within Gaza’s Hamas government told the AFP news agency under the condition of anonymity.

“No foreigners will be able to leave as long as the injured are stranded” in Gaza, the source added.

Speaking today, McEntee said: “There has unfortunately been a delay in citizens being released.”

She added: “We are using every diplomatic channel open and available to us to try and make sure that they are released.

Everybody is concerned at what we’re experiencing and what we’re witnessing on an hourly basis in Gaza.

“But we need to make sure that we do everything we can to call for that humanitarian ceasefire, as well to allow citizens to leave and humanitarian aid to get in.”

Speaking to The Journal last week, Irish citizen Ibrahim Alagha said he and his family in Gaza are receiving “at least a message a day from the Department of Foreign Affairs”.

“The message just gives an update, and the update is the same content every day – we’re trying, we’re hoping in the very near future (to evacuate you),” Alagha told us.

McEntee also told RTÉ that the Government is doing “everything that we can to support” the family of Emily Hand.

Emily, who is eight years old, had been on a sleepover in the Kibbutz Be’eri when it was raided by Hamas on 7 October.

She has dual Irish and Israeli citizenship as her father Thomas is originally from Dublin.

Emily was feared dead in the 7 October Hamas attacks, but is now thought to be alive and being held hostage in Gaza.

‘Not how diplomacy works’

McEntee criticised calls by Sinn Féin and others for the Israeli Ambassador to Ireland Dana Erlich to be expelled, saying “that is not how diplomacy works”.

minister-for-justice-helen-mcentee-during-a-budget-2024-press-conference-at-government-buildings-in-dublin-picture-date-wednesday-october-11-2023 Justice Minister Helen McEntee pictured last month Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

“We need to keep those channels open and Sinn Féin need to acknowledge that,” she said.

If we want to support and help Irish citizens on the ground in Gaza, we need to keep all of these channels open and that’s exactly what we will do.

Also speaking on Morning Ireland, Sinn Féin’s Matt Carthy called for the Irish Government to “take a lead in putting in place sanctions and penalties” on Israel.

He reiterated calls for the Israeli Ambassador to be expelled and said: “We want to cut off the diplomatic credentials of the Israeli ambassador because we believe that it’s important that we send an international message”.

When asked what impact such a move would have on efforts to evacuate Irish citizens from Gaza, Carthy said there “is an imperative on countries like Ireland to make a stand”.

“One of the ways in which we can make a stand is through ensuring that we send the message that we’re not going to have diplomatic relations with a state that is currently involved in obscene acts of violence against the Palestinian people,” Carthy said.

He added that there are “many ways and means in order to have some levels of communication”.

Contains reporting from Press Association, Órla Ryan and © AFP 2023