Conflict in Gaza ‘not just a war on Hamas’, Tánaiste says on Middle East trip

Micheál Martin says ‘population of Gaza are being collectively punished’

Standing at the Rafah border crossing on Tuesday evening, Tánaiste Micheál Martin said the continuing conflict in Gaza wasn’t “just a war on Hamas - the population of Gaza are being collectively punished”.

“There is no other way of looking at this,” he told reporters. Having spoken with humanitarian aid workers and pointing to truckloads of aid being held up at the border, Mr Martin said he was informed that “ordinary” aid products such as green sleeping bags and tents were being refused into Gaza and there seemed to be “a deliberative policy of control” by Israel.

He said this policy was to demonstrate to “the population at large who’s in charge”.

Lotfy Gheith, operations director of Egyptian Red Crescent, later disclosed that generators, incubators for children, wheelchairs, power banks, toilets and oxygen were among aid products refused, along with chocolate croissants, which were deemed “a luxury item”.


Mr Gheith said aid has to go through four checks by the authorities, with around 15 per cent of items rejected.

Mr Martin is on a two-day visit to Egypt and Jordan, as part of “intensive efforts” to address the crisis in the Middle East.

As the Fianna Fáil leader was being briefed by UN partners at the border, hundreds of Gazans were attempting to get back over the crossing, many of whom said they wished to be reunited with their family.

Mwafaq Alkhatib (61) from Khan Yunis had a different reason.

The manager of an orphanage, Mr Alkhatib had been trying for three weeks to get back to Gaza. Pointing to a bandage on his back, he said he had fallen over during a bombing, while adding that 200 children from the orphanage had been killed.

Mona Barbakh (22), also from Khan Yunis, had visited the border 42 days in a row in order to try to get back to see her husband and father. She and her extended family had previously spent $15,000 to get out of Gaza.

Mahran Omar held up his mobile phone, showing photographs of his six children who he wanted to return to.

With around 200 to 300 people turning up to the border each day seeking to return to Gaza, small groups of evacuees could also be seen crossing over.

Mr Martin later visited Al-Arish hospital, the closest such facility to the crossing, where he met Wafaa Qdaieh (1), who was recovering from gas inhalation.

Ataaf Saleh, aged in her 50s and who was recovering after her house had been blown up, told the Tánaiste that Gaza needed a “solution” and that it was “uninhabitable”.

Earlier, the Tánaiste sat down with Egypt’s foreign minister Sameh Shoukry in Cairo. Following that meeting, Mr Martin said he believed there would be “much worse” found “buried under the rubble” in Gaza when conflict eventually concludes. He also said the world “cannot go on” with the type of warfare being seen.

“There seems to be a new trend from Aleppo onwards where you just level the place, level residential houses, you level civic offices, you level universities, you level schools,” he said.

“This has become the new norm in the waging of war. We see it in Syria, we see it in Ukraine, we see it in Gaza and the world has to call a halt, the world will not be able to sustain this.”

Mr Shoukry described Ireland’s stance on the conflict as very noble and courageous. He said verbal calls and requests for a two-state solution were not enough and actions were required.

Mr Martin thanked his Egyptian counterpart for facilitating the evacuation of 90 Irish citizens and their dependants, while added they were “anxious” to get another 40 or so dependants out of Gaza.

The Tánaiste will meet the Jordanian deputy prime minister and foreign minister Ayma Safadi in Amman on Wednesday, as well as Unwra programmes supporting Palestinian refugees.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times