Further bombing in Gaza will ‘leave any respect for humanitarian law in tatters’ - President Higgins

Comments from President Michael D Higgins follow briefing from WHO’s Michael Ryan

President Michael D Higgins has said the prospect of more violence in Gaza is “a moment of global crisis” while calling for a lasting ceasefire in the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

President Higgins received an update on the situation last night in a phone call with Dr Mike Ryan of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Dr Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies programme, detailed the situation in Gaza, as the recorded death toll in the conflict passed 27,000.

President Higgins warned that any further extension of the bombing campaign into what is a densely populated area to which so many have fled “would leave any respect for humanitarian law in tatters”.

“The suggestion that such a development take place and be watched in near silence is a suggestion that removes all morality from any stated position of public concern for the most basic of human rights.


“What is at stake now, given the high proportion of loss of life of non-combatants, and particularly of women and children, is the potential emptying-out of the entire space and discourse of human rights and international humanitarian law.

“Such an eschewing of moral considerations is a moment of global crisis that offers a terrible nadir of human concern and must be opposed in order to prevent it being invoked in future conflicts.”

Dr Ryan informed the President that there had been 152 UNRWA staff deaths in Gaza.

President Higgins said he wished to convey a sense of urgency in his message as media reports have emerged that an attack on an ever-more densely packed Rafah is being planned.

“I was grateful to receive an update on the current situation on the ground in Gaza from Dr Mike Ryan, who in the most difficult and challenging of human circumstances is among those engaging in desperately needed humanitarian work which we should all support.

“It is clear that it is more vital than ever that the space for diplomacy be forefronted and supported as steps that are necessary for saving life and helping discussions towards peace, and that those negotiations on which all sides are engaging are brought to an early and positive conclusion,” he said.

The President said: “The consensus of all those interested in an enduring peace is holding and widening on the principle that an immediate ceasefire is necessary, which will offer the best prospect for the achievement of the release of all hostages and allow the essential humanitarian supports access to the population which so desperately needs them.

“The WHO have pointed out in their latest Emergency Situation Update, published earlier this week, that 70 per cent of those who have been killed in Gaza to date are women and children. Unicef in particular have highlighted that the violence has left 17,000 children without parents.

“The WHO have further stressed that 75 per cent of the population of Gaza have been displaced, and expressed key concerns around the continued dismantling of the health system within Gaza, the deepening of levels of food insecurity with over half a million people facing catastrophic hunger and starvation, and the ongoing outbreaks of infectious diseases.”

President Higgins said that beyond the immediately required ceasefire, release of hostages and provision of humanitarian supports, it is of the “utmost importance” that demand and support for serious discussions resume on a meaningful long-term settlement that can provide peace and security to both the people of Palestine and the people of Israel.

“As the Irish Government with others have stated, this must include the recognition of a Palestinian State.”

President Higgins said the 30,000 UNRWA staff in the region, including 13,000 in Gaza, must be supported.

“Those countries who have removed their funding from UNRWA must be reminded of the unavoidable consequences their actions are likely to have on this most vulnerable. This is not a matter on which anyone who believes in the vital need for a humanitarian response can remain silent,” he said.

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