Varadkar accuses Israeli government of breaching international law in Gaza siege

Taoiseach says Israel is engaging in ‘collective punishment’ against people of Gaza over crimes of Hamas

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has accused Israel of engaging in “collective punishment” in cutting off power and water to the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip.

Mr Varadkar said Israel had the right to defend itself given its “brutal, savage” enemies, including Hamas and Hezbollah, the state of Iran and “Islamic fundamentalists and anti-Semites”, given the events of last Saturday which left more than 1,000 Israelis dead.

However, he said the country had no right to breach international humanitarian law. “I’m really concerned about what I am seeing happening in Gaza at the moment. To me it amounts to collective punishment,” he told RTÉ's Prime Time programme.

“That’s not the way a respectable, democratic state should conduct itself. I believe by targeting civilians and cutting off civilian infrastructure, that is a breach of international humanitarian law. I think it is very important for us as Ireland to make sure that voice is brought to the table at European Union level.”


Ireland was one of four countries at EU level, the others being Netherlands, Spain and Luxembourg, which pushed back against a rogue tweet by Olivér Várhelyi, the European Commissioner in charge of enlargement and neighbourhood, who announced that “all payments” to the Palestinians had been “immediately suspended” and that “all new budget proposals,” including for 2023, had been “postponed until further notice”.

The European Commission has clarified that humanitarian aid will continue to be delivered to Gaza by EU member states.

Mr Varadkar continued: “Yes, 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. Operations that clearly affect civilians disproportionately are wrong. Cutting off electricity, cutting off water, that is not acceptable.”

He also called for the opening of a humanitarian corridor between Egypt and Gaza. Egypt said on Thursday that it had discussed providing aid to Gaza through its short border with the territory, but rejected calls to allow a safe corridor for civilians, citing “the right of Palestinians to hold on to their cause and their land”, Reuters reported.

Speaking on the same programme, the Israeli ambassador to Ireland Dana Erlich responded to Mr Varadkar’s comments and said Hamas is ultimately responsible for what is happening in Gaza at present.

“Every rocket that Hamas fires from their own populated areas to our populated areas is a war crime. Right now we are over 4,000 war crimes not to mention the people who were butchered, the children who were burned alive.”

Presenter Fran McNulty said hundreds of children in Gaza had been killed by Israeli bombs. Ms Erlich blamed Hamas: “I feel the pain of the people in Gaza because they did not choose this. They are suffering from Hamas in the same way that we are.

“What would be the proportionate response to butchering your people? What would be a proportionate response to moving from house to house butchering people. Why are we not talking about Hamas? Most of the world is standing up and saying that Hamas needs to be stopped.”

Mr McNulty put it to her that the former Irish president Mary Robinson called the “massive indiscriminate bombing” of Gaza by Israel a war crime. “I can only hope that one day that Hamas and their so-called leadership of Gaza will spend as much time thinking about their population as we are thinking about them,” Ms Erlich stated.

She defended Israeli airstrikes on civilian infrastructure in Gaza. “Our people are not safe yet, not the people in Gaza and not the people in Israel. This is nothing like we have seen. These are brutalities and atrocities we have not seen and we need the world to help us.

Mr McNulty asked her what the rationale was for denying people who are being bombed the right to leave and the right to food, medicine and water.

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

She accused Hamas, which rules the Gaza strip, of stockpiling weapons instead of food and water.

Speaking on Friday, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said the Government had been very clear in labelling Hamas a terrorist organisation.

“We utterly, utterly condemn the brutal murders that took place in the last week or so and offer my condolences to all family members who have lost loved ones. It is important that Israel can defend itself, but it is very important in retaliating to these terrorist organisations that international law and humanitarian law is upheld. And I think everybody is worried about potentially what potentially might unfold in the coning hour,” she said.

“The most important thing here, whether we are prescribing an organisation or not as a terrorist organisation, is that civilian lives, innocent lives, should not be lost. And I think there is an onus on us as a Government, as ministers, and the international community to step in where possible and to try and prevent this for escalating any further.”

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times