Taoiseach to push EU leaders to call for ‘humanitarian ceasefire’ in Gaza

Leo Varadkar says fact that Hamas may not pause hostilities with Israel needs to be ‘borne in mind’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he will push EU leaders to call for a “humanitarian ceasefire” in Gaza at today’s meeting of the EU Council in Brussels, but he warned that Hamas may not observe such a pause.

Mr Varadkar declined to be drawn on the duration of any ceasefire, saying that the Government would not put a timeframe on its calls. He restated Ireland’s position that Israel has a right to defend itself, including the right to “pursue the terrorists”, but that it must be in line with international law.

He was speaking on the way into a meeting of leaders of EPP parties, the European political family to which Fine Gael belongs, before meeting the heads of government of all 27 EU states later.

That meeting will also be attended by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, who has been criticised in several quarters for initially taking a pro-Israel stance when she visited Tel Aviv in the wake of the October 7th Hamas attacks. She backed Israel’s right to defend itself without any reference to international law or the rights of Palestinians.


Mr Varadkar said he would not be raising Irish criticisms of Ms von der Leyen, saying he had discussed the issue with her before.

“My main focus really here is for the EU as one to agree to call for a humanitarian ceasefire,” he told reporters in Brussels. “We don’t have unanimous support for that at the moment. I don’t really mind what language is used. I think it’s important that the fighting should stop and that humanitarian aid should get into Gaza and that EU citizens and other foreign passport holders should be allowed to leave – protecting our citizens is really significant and very important for us.”

EU diplomats are wrangling over the language that EU leaders will seek to agree on when they meet.

“I always appreciate that different countries come from different perspectives,” Mr Varadkar said. “I think all of us understand what’s the origin of Germany’s and Austria’s strong support for Israel in particular, and also very aware that Hamas is the Islamic Resistance Movement and there are lots of countries that have experienced very serious extreme Islamic-related attacks.

“So we have to understand from Ireland’s point of view where other people are coming from. I’m not going to be berating people, but what I’m going to be trying to achieve is a consensus EU position that calls for a ceasefire, calls for the fighting to stop, so that we can get aid in and maybe potentially even begin talking about peace again, and a long-term solution.”

Asked if Ireland would be advocating an open-ended ceasefire, Mr Varadkar replied: “We’re not going to put a timeline on it. What we’re looking for is the EU calling for a humanitarian ceasefire. We’re not going to put a timeframe on it.

“We’re realistic in that it may be the case that Hamas isn’t willing to observe a ceasefire. How can you expect one side to observe a ceasefire and not the other. So that needs to be borne in mind, if there is a ceasefire all parties to the conflict have to abide by it or it won’t last. And also we are very clear in our view that any state, including the State of Israel, has the right to defend itself and has the right to pursue the terrorists that attacked its civilians. But how it does it is really important, really important in terms of Israel’s future security, the security of the entire region and the prospects for peace in the future.”

Asked about the position of Irish soldiers in southern Lebanon, Mr Varadkar said Defence Forces members would not become involved in clashes with Israeli forces in the event of an Israeli invasion of Lebanon, from where Hizbullah fighters have been launching attacks on Israel.

“No, is the short answer,” he said. “It’s a peacekeeping operation, not a peace enforcement operation, so we wouldn’t envisage Irish UN troops being involved in active combat.”

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times