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Middle East

Martin says people of Gaza being 'punished collectively' as he visits Rafah crossing

The Tánaiste said he “cannot rationally come to any other conclusion” after seeing some of the aid items being refused entry into Gaza by Israel.

LAST UPDATE | 23 Apr

TÁNAISTE MICHEÁL MARTIN has said that he believes the people of Gaza are being “collectively punished” by Israel after visiting the Rafah border crossing with the region. 

The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence said he “cannot rationally come to any other conclusion” after seeing some of the aid items being refused entry into Gaza by Israel. 

Earlier, he met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in Cairo. He will also meet with government officials in Jordan as part of the visit. 

Martin visited the border earlier this afternoon and spoke to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) and other aid workers about the situation. 

During a visit to the Al Arish humanitarian hub, where aid is being sorted, he saw a catalogue of items such as CT scanners, water purifiers, generators and sleeping bags that have all been refused entry into Gaza by Israel. 

Later, the Tánaiste visited Al Arish Hospital and met with patients, some of whom were infants who had been injured during the bombing in Gaza. He heard how some children were suffering from lung damage as a result of the explosives. 

IMG_8210 The Tánaiste visiting a hospital ward where a baby, who is in need of a lung transplant, is receiving treatment. Niall O'Connor / The Journal Niall O'Connor / The Journal / The Journal

Speaking to reporters after the visit, Martin said there is “no rational logical reason” why items like CT scanners and sleeping bags are not being sent in as aid into Gaza.

“One has to come to the conclusion that this is a really punitive system that is denying the Palestinians living in Gaza very basic humanitarian aid. It’s very difficult to rationalise this,” he said.

It all leads to one compelling narrative that the people of Gaza are being punished collectively, it seems to me now. I cannot rationally come to any other conclusion.

Martin said he saw trucks filled with unused aid from countries such as Singapore and Turkey lined up at the border. 

“There’s no hospital equipment being allowed in, according to the Red Crescent society. That is unacceptable. It’s in sharp contrast to all the rhetoric and commentary and political meetings,” he continued.

“There’s a huge, almost detached nature to some of the debate that’s going on, and the actual reality of what’s happening on the ground in terms of the deployment of aid into Gaza.”

He said he met a young mother in hospital whose leg had been amputated, as well as another woman who lost four of her family members, with another four having been injured.

“It brings home, once again, the horrors of war and the absolute absence of any justification for the terror, the trauma that’s been visited upon children and women.

“This is inhumanity on a grand scale and it needs to stop.”

In a statement issued following the visit, Martin said what he saw and heard today “makes it abundantly clear that the humanitarian situation in Gaza remains extremely grave”.

“Hunger is widespread; health, sanitation and water systems are destroyed. Despite this, Israel is continuing to impose unacceptable restrictions which impede a comprehensive humanitarian response in Gaza.

“A properly functioning deconfliction system and full access for humanitarian organisations to the north of Gaza is essential.”

“It is vital at such a moment of humanitarian need and regional instability to demonstrate clear and unwavering support for the work of UNRWA which remains the backbone of the humanitarian response in Gaza and a pillar of regional stability,” Martin added. 

Two-state solution

Speaking at a press conference in the new Foreign Affairs building outside Cairo city centre this morning, Shoukry said Ireland is “very commendable” in its stance on Palestine, adding that a “ceasefire must be achieved”. 

Shoukry said that the solution to the conflict is a two-state solution. 

Speaking at the press conference, Martin said: “We do think it’s important that the vaccum at the moment is filled by solid ideas and a solid approach to getting a more sustainable political solution, which we both believe is a two-state solution.”

IMG_8120 Martin and Shoukry speaking at a joint press conference in Cairo this morning Niall O'Connor / The Journal Niall O'Connor / The Journal / The Journal

The Tánaiste said it is “the only basis on which Israelis and Palestinians can be side by side, in harmony”.

“From our own experience of conflict in Ireland we understand that there cannot just be a military dimension in situations like this,” he said, adding that there has to be political, humanitarian and reconciliation aspects to it.

“That doesn’t happen over night but it is essential that we get on that road.”

The Tánaiste noted that there have been questions over the accuracy of the death toll figures coming from Gaza and said that after the conflict he fears that “we will witness much, much worse in terms of loss of life and destruction”.

Israel’s assault on Gaza has so far killed at least 34,183 people in the Gaza Strip, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the territory.

He said he has made the point to the European Union that international media and the political world should be let into Gaza to see what is happening.

He said there is nothing like seeing something for yourself, on the ground. 

“You can look at television screens, but to go to the scene, to meet people that suffer and to bear witness to what is happening.”

Martin said that up to 90 Irish citizens and their dependents have left Gaza, but added that there is potentially up to 40 more dependents of Irish citizens left in the territory who are “anxious to get out”. 

In a statement earlier, Martin said that the trip is part of “intensive efforts to address the crisis in the Middle East”.

“Against a backdrop of increased regional instability, we cannot lose sight of the urgency of addressing the current crisis in Gaza and the wider Israeli/Palestinian issue,” he said.

The Journal / YouTube

He said his visit to Egypt and Jordan will “focus on continuing my discussions with key partners on the need for an immediate ceasefire, the unconditional release of all hostages and full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access to Gaza”.

“We cannot and must not lose focus on the situation in Gaza, which remains extremely grave,” Martin said. 

The Tánaiste is travelling to Jordan tonight. He is set to meet with the Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi in Amman tomorrow.

He will also pay a courtesy call on King Abdullah II of Jordan and visit El Talbieh, an UNRWA camp for Palestinian refugees.

The Journal’s News Correspondent Niall O’Connor reports from Cairo and Jane Moore and Hayley Halpin report from Dublin

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Need more clarity and context on what is happening in the Middle East? Check out our new FactCheck Knowledge Bank for essential reads and guides to finding good information online.

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