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President Higgins speaking to reporters at the World Food Forum in Rome. Diarmuid Pepper/The Journal

President says Israel reducing humanitarian law ‘to tatters’, criticises EU Commission president

President Higgins also criticised European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, saying: ‘She wasn’t speaking for Ireland.’

PRESIDENT MICHAEL D Higgins has said Israel “announcing in advance” that it would break international law in Gaza reduces the Geneva Convention to “tatters”.

He also hit out at European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen following her visit to Israel last week, saying that she doesn’t speak for Ireland. 

President Higgins was speaking following an address to the World Food Forum in Rome.

Speaking the Headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nation, President Higgins said there was “unanimous revulsion against the killing of civilians” by Hamas.

Hamas gunmen burst through the heavily militarised border around the Gaza Strip on 7 October and killed more than 1,300 people, mainly civilians.

President Higgins said there was particular “horror” at the killing of people at a music concert, which included 22-year-old Irish-Israeli citizen Kim Damti.

However, he added: “One has to bear in mind how important it is to retain and insist on the veracity and the cogency of international law.”

Israel today announced there would be no temporary truce to allow aid in or foreigners out of the Gaza Strip, as fears grow over the dire humanitarian situation faced by millions of Palestinians trapped in the heavily bombarded territory.

Israel’s army has told people in the north of the Gaza Strip – nearly half of its 2.4-million population – to head south to safety, ahead of an expected ground offensive.

“It’s one thing, when we look at historic breaches of international law, that is incredibly bad,” said President Higgins, “but to actually announce in advance that you’re going to break international law, and that you announce it again and again, and that you do so on an innocent population.

“I have thought about it and I think that it really reduces all that code that was there from the Second World War through the Geneva Conventions about the protection of civilians, it reduces it to tatters.”

President Higgins said 350,000 people are being assisted in Gaza through the World Food Programme and that a “huge humanitarian crisis” has been created.

“The breaking of international law as retaliation is simply something that countries who subscribe to the United Nations Charter, to humanitarian law and to international law in general must be forthright about,” said President Higgins.

He added: “You do need to be quite straightforward about where you stand in relation to international law.”

President Higgins also said we cannot “ignore the long-neglected source of much of this conflict, which is the Palestinian issues”.

He also criticised the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

President Higgins’ criticism of von der Leyen comes just days after she undertook a visit to Israel with the president of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola.

“Hamas’ despicable actions are the hallmark of terrorists. And I know that how Israel responds will show that it is a democracy,” von der Leyen declared on her visit last Friday.

“What I saw and what I heard is breaking my heart. The blood of people killed in their sleep. The stories of innocents burned alive or slaughtered in their homes,” she said.

“They aim to eradicate Jewish life from the land, and they took action.”

According to her office’s account of the meeting, von der Leyen promised that Europe would work more closely with Israel, Egypt and Jordan for “a peaceful and integrated Middle East”.

President Higgins told reporters today in Rome: “She (von der Leyen) wasn’t speaking for Ireland.

He added that it was a “thoughtless and even reckless set of actions” that was “unhelpful”.

President Higgins is in Rome for a week-long visit, that will also include a private audience with Pope Francis and a meeting with Italian president Sergio Mattaella.

- Diarmuid Pepper will be reporting from Rome this week and you can follow on X, formerly known as Twitter, at @Diarmuid_9

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