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President Higgins warns of 'moment of global crisis' as Israel strikes refugee-dense southern Gaza

The president said any further strikes on areas densely populated with refugees would “leave any respect for humanitarian law in tatters”.

PRESIDENT MICHAEL D. Higgins has decried Israel’s strikes in southern Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled from further north, calling the prospect of more violence a ‘moment of global crisis’.

The president received an update last night in a phone call from Dr Mike Ryan of the World Health Organisation, who detailed the dire situation in Gaza as the recorded death toll since October passes 27,000.

Israel initially focused its attacks on Gaza in northern areas, telling civilians to evacuate towards the south, but has turned to bombing southern cities like Khan Younis and Rafah, killing refugees who had fled from the north. 

President Higgins has said that any further strikes on areas densely populated with refugees would “leave any respect for humanitarian law in tatters”.

In total, 75% of Gaza’s population has been displaced. The health system has collapsed and more than half a million people are facing hunger and starvation, according to the WHO. 

70% of people who have been killed in Gaza to date are women and children, with a further 17,000 children now without their parents.

“Given all of these facts, any further extension of the bombing campaign into what is a densely populated area to which so many people have fled would leave any respect for humanitarian law in tatters,” President Higgins said.

“The suggestion that such a development take place and be watched in near silence is a suggestion that removes all morality from any stated position of public concern for the most basic of human rights.”

The president said that “what is at stake now, given the high proportion of loss of life of non-combatants, and particularly of women and children, is the potential emptying out of the entire space and discourse of human rights and international humanitarian law”.

Such an eschewing of moral considerations is a moment of global crisis that offers a terrible nadir of human concern and must be opposed in order to prevent it being invoked in future conflicts.

He said that beyond a ceasefire, which he described as being immediately necessary, and the release of hostages and provision of humanitarian supports, there must serious discussions about a meaningful long-term resolution that can “provide peace and security to both the people of Palestine and the people of Israel” – adding that this must include the recognition of a Palestinian State.

Gaza’s health ministry said more than 100 people were killed in strikes overnight, with 105 killed the night before. 

Rafah, which has a border crossing with Egypt, formerly had a population of 200,000 but is now holding more than half of Gaza’s total population of over two million, according to the WHO.  

UNRWA funding

President Higgins called for countries that have suspended funding to the UNRWA, the United Nations’s agency for Palestinian refugees, to resume it urgently.

12 of the agency’s staff members have been accused by Israel of aiding Hamas in its attacks on 7 October, prompting the UN to open an investigation.

Several countries, including the US and UK, consequently suspended their funding to the agency – which was already pushed to the brink due to the tremendous need for its services in Gaza.

President Higgins said it is “vital” that countries continue to support the UNRWA, which has 13,000 staff members in Gaza who are “assisting some of the most broken people on the planet in the most devastating of circumstances”.

“The small number of those suspected of being connected to the appalling atrocities carried out by Hamas on 7 October have correctly been dealt with,” the president said, adding that other countries should now follow Ireland’s example and restore their funding for the UNRWA. 

“Those countries who have removed their funding from UNRWA must be reminded of the unavoidable consequences their actions are likely to have on this most vulnerable. This is not a matter on which anyone who believes in the vital need for a humanitarian response can remain silent.”

152 UNRWA staff have died in Gaza.