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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking on RTÉ's Prime Time tonight RTÉ
Prime Time

Varadkar: Israel is 'under threat' but 'doesn't have right' to breach international law

The Taoiseach said he is “really concerned” about what he is “seeing happening in Gaza at the moment”.

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said “Israel is under threat” but criticised it for cutting off water and electricity to the Gaza Strip, deeming the actions “not acceptable”. 

Hamas gunmen killed 1,200 people in Israel and took about 150 hostages in their surprise onslaught launched from Gaza on Saturday.

Israel has retaliated by raining air and artillery strikes on Hamas targets in Gaza for six days, claiming more than 1,400 lives.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Prime Time this evening, Varadkar said that Israel has a “right to defend themselves, but they don’t a right to breach international humanitarian law”. 

“Israel is a country that is surrounded by these brutal, savage groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, countries like Iran, often supported by Islamic fundamentalists and anti-Semites around the world, so Israel is under threat” he said. 

Fears have grown for Gaza’s 2.4 million people now enduring the fifth war in 15 years in the coastal enclave, which has also seen Israel cut off water, food and power supplies.

Israeli Energy Minister Israel Katz has vowed the siege would remain in force until the hostages are freed.

“Humanitarian aid to Gaza? No electric switch will be turned on, no water tap will be opened and no fuel truck will enter until the Israeli abductees are returned home,” he said.

Speaking to Prime Time, Varadkar said he is “really concerned” about what he is “seeing happening in Gaza at the moment”.

“To me, it amounts to collective punishment. Cutting off power, cutting off fuel supplies and water supplies, that’s not that way a respectable democratic state should conduct itself,” he added. 

Varadkar said Hamas should “release all of the hostages immediately, Israeli citizens and dual citizens alike”. 

“Israel is entirely justified in going after Hamas, in Gaza and elsewhere, but operations that clearly affect civilians disproportionately are wrong, cutting off electricity, cutting off water, that’s not acceptable,” the Taoiseach said. 

Varadkar also expressed his condolences to the family of Irish-Israeli woman Kim Damti who was confirmed dead yesterday

22-year-old Kim Damti had been missing since Hamas militants launched an unprecedented series of surprise attacks on Saturday. She had attended the music festival when Hamas carried out a bloody mass-shooting on the event.

Her funeral was held today in Israel, RTÉ has reported. 

Ambassador

Also speaking to RTÉ’s Prime Time was the Iraeli Ambassador to Ireland Dana Erlich. 

She said: “Right now, we are at war. It’s a war that we didn’t choose, we didn’t start, but we need to make sure that our borders are secure, that our people are safe. Our people are not safe yet.

“We will do everything that we can in order to make our people safe.” 

When asked what innocent cilivians in Gaza do to protect themselves from attacks, Erlich said she “would like to direct that question to Hamas”. 

“They’ve been planning this attack for so long. They’re stockpiling for so long. They’ve been wielding terror tunnels for so long. If only they would have invested that money in stockpiling food for their people or water for the people. Why didn’t they take care of their people?” she said. 

Erlich was asked what the rationale is for denying civilians who are being bombed the right to leave, the right to food, water and medicine.

She responded: “Right now we are at war. When you’re at war, you will do everything in your power to make sure that your people are safe. Talking about opening a border, our border was just infiltrated in order to butcher our people.

“And you’ve heard those stories. You cannot stay indifferent to these stories. I don’t want to believe that there’s anyone in Ireland that is indifferent to these stories, and do not fully condemn all of it.”

Humanitarian corridor

During his interview, Varadkar called for the humanitarian corridor between Egypt and Gaza to be immediately reopened. 

The Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza is the only passage in and out of the coastal enclave not controlled by Israel.

Varadkar comments come as Eygpt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi today said his country is committed to ensuring the delivery “of aid, both medical and humanitarian at this difficult time”, affirming Cairo’s “firm position” of ensuring Palestinians’ “legitimate rights”.

However, he stressed that Gazans must “stay steadfast and remain on their land”.

Egypt, historically a key intermediary between Hamas and Israel, has called for donors to send humanitarian aid bound for Gaza to El Arish airport but has pushed against calls to allow fleeing Palestinians into its land.

Egypt has pushed for a diplomatic solution and called for restraint from both sides, while Sisi has asserted his country’s national security was his “primary responsibility”.

Today, al-Sisi said that Egypt was already hosting “nine million guests, as I call them, from many countries who came to Egypt for security and safety”.

But the case of Gazans “is different”, he said, because their displacement would mean “the elimination of the (Palestinian) cause”.

Egypt was the first Arab state to normalise relations with Israel in 1979, after a six-year war that ended in 1973 with Egypt regaining the Sinai Peninsula from Israeli control.

With reporting by © AFP 2023