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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arriving at the international conference on humanitarian aid to Gaza this morning
paris conference

Failure to observe humanitarian law 'can’t be inconsequential', Varadkar tells conference on Gaza

The Palestinian Prime Minister is also in attendance and said: ‘How many Palestinians have to be killed before the war stops?’

LAST UPDATE | Nov 9th 2023, 11:45 AM

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has told an international conference on humanitarian assistance to Gaza that “failure” to observe humanitarian law “can’t be inconsequential”.

He was speaking from the Palais de l’Élysée in Paris at an international conference which is being hosted by French president Emmanuel Macron.

The conference is assessing the deteriorating situation and the urgent humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza, particularly in terms of health, food, water and electricity.

Addressing the conference, Varadkar described the humanitarian situation in Gaza as “grave” and added that there is “horror” at the large number of casualties, particularly children.

He called for hostages to be released “without precondition” and for foreign nationals to be allowed to leave Gaza.

No Irish citizens have been able to be evacuated from Gaza since the opening of the Rafah crossing into Egypt last week.  

Varadkar told the conference that the “number one priority” must be a humanitarian ceasefire “observed by all actors”.

French President Emmanuel Macron earlier urged nations to “work towards a ceasefire” between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, as he opened a conference on aid to the Palestinian territory.

“In the immediate term, we need to work on protecting civilians. To do that, we need a humanitarian pause very quickly and we must work towards a ceasefire,” Macron told delegates in Paris this morning.

Varadkar also said that there is an “insistence that humanitarian law should be observed.”

“Failure to do so can’t be inconsequential forever,” said Varadkar. “Double standards will lead to no standards if not checked.”

G7 ministers last night called for Israel to defend itself “in accordance with international law”, while Varadkar recently said that some of Israel’s actions in Gaza were “something more approaching revenge”.

When asked about Varadkar’s comments at a screening of Hamas attacks at the Israeli Embassy in Dublin on Tuesday, Israeli ambassador to Ireland Dana Erlich insisted to reporters that Israel’s actions in Gaza are in line with international law.

Varadkar also urged attendees at the conference to “hold to the principle that Palestinian lives and Israeli lives are of equal value” and cautioned that there can be “no peace, nor security for Israel, without justice for the Palestinian people”.

“Seventy-five years of war, displacement, dispossession, and terrorism teach us that,” said Varadkar.

He added that peace can only come “through dialogue, diplomacy and politics, however difficult or unimaginable that may seem today”.

“From Ireland, we know that peaceful coexistence and indeed partnership is possible, even after a period of prolonged conflict,” said Varadkar.  

“We as the international community need to support any initiative and new peace process that can bring people away from their weapons and back to the table.”

‘How many Palestinians have to be killed?’

The Palestinian Prime Minister is in attendance at the conference, and he asked world leaders how many people in Gaza have to be killed before the war in the region stops.

Prime Minister of Palestinian Authority Mohammad Shtayyeh asked the conference: “How many Palestinians have to be killed before the war stops?

“Is killing six children per hour sufficient? Is killing four women per hour sufficient? This is an excess, this is greater than the number of people killed in Ukraine in 532 days.”

A World Health Organisation spokesperson this week said that an average of 160 children are being killed every day in Gaza as the war continues.

In his speech Shtayyeh said “the road to suffering did not begin on 7 October” – referring to the date Hamas attacked Israel, killing 1,400 people.

“This route towards suffering has lasted for 75 years,” he added.

“I would like to remind you of the context; first of all, the legitimate defence is not the equivalent of occupying the region of others, there is a clear breach of international law and crimes being perpetrated against the Palestinian people.”

Shtayyeh added: “Today there are those who think that they might be the winners in this bloodbath involving children, but no one can justify killing children.

“What Israel is doing is not a way against Hamas, it is against all the Palestinian people. Since 7 October in the West Bank, 42 Palestinians have been killed.

“Time is valuable and in Gaza, six children are killed per day, the Palestinian people need international protection and the international community has to distance itself from this policy of double standards.”

Shtayyeh called for “an end to war, occupation of Gaza and the displacement of Palestinians”.

“The priority is quite clear, we have to save the wounded, we have to furnish electricity, water, medication.

“There are scourges that are beginning to spread due to the smell of death. More than 1,300 bodies have not been dealt with.”

Shtayyeh added that there is “clear condemnation of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority needs to work with the international community to battle terrorism”.

‘No humanitarian crisis’

An Israeli military official today denied there is a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, even as he acknowledged the Palestinian territory faces several challenges amid the ongoing war.

“We know the civil situation in the Gaza Strip is not an easy one,” said Colonel Moshe Tetro, head of coordination and liaison at COGAT, the Israeli defence ministry body handling civil affairs in Gaza.

“But I can say that there is no humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip,” he told reporters in Israel.

Tetro said the Israeli military was facilitating aid transfer to Gaza in sectors such as “water, food, medical supplies and humanitarian aid for shelters”.

Peace Forum

The humanitarian conference has been hastily put together on the margins of the annual Paris Peace Forum.

It will aim to “mobilise all partners and stakeholders to respond to the needs” of Gazans, a Macron adviser told reporters yesterday.

Macron’s office also said that no Israeli representative will attend, but he will inform Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the results.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was in attendance and told the conference that “we have to protect lives and preserve humanity”.

She added that the European commission “knows Gaza very well” and is “one of the largest donors to the people of Palestine”.

She said the Commission has quadrupled humanitarian aid to Gaza up to €100 million in the run up to the conference.

However, she acknowledged that aid cargos reaching Gaza through Rafah crossing “remain too small to meet humanitarian needs”.

“We need to look at additional routes, and this is why we work very closely with the president of Cyprus to establish a maritime corridor,” said von der Leyen.

She added that there is a need to “think about tomorrow” and said the “hope” for the region must be a two-state solution.

Fighting is raging more than a month after the unprecedented 7 October attacks on Israel by Hamas, sparking the deadliest ever war in Gaza.

According to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, more than 10,500 people, many of them children, have been killed by Israeli forces.

Recent weeks have seen growing calls for humanitarian “pauses” while Ireland has been steadfast in its call for a humanitarian ceasefire to allow aid to enter Gaza.

International concern over the fate of Gaza’s civilians, most of whom cannot flee the sealed-off territory, has prompted calls for a ceasefire.

But Israel has stated it will not stop until its objective of destroying the Palestinian militant group Hamas is achieved.

Netanyahu has said there will be no fuel delivered to Gaza and no ceasefire with Hamas unless the hostages are freed.

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Órla Ryan, Christina Finn and Diarmuid Pepper (in Paris)