Warm Egyptian welcome for Martin ahead of meeting with Israeli officials

Tánaiste signals 23 Irish citizens and dependents finally manage to leave war-torn Gaza Strip for Egypt

The call to prayer had just sounded in the Cairo dusk as Micheál Martin emerged from an hour of talks with Ahmed Aboul Gheit, secretary general of the Arab League.

The Tánaiste had some good news from the Rafah crossing, where 23 Irish citizens and dependents had finally managed to leave the war-torn Gaza Strip for Egypt. “Obviously they’re in good form,” he told reporters.

With transfers from Palestinian territory into Egypt said to be taking as long as 10 hours, the Irish nationals included family groups with children. Still, some on the list to exit Gaza on Wednesday could not do so.

“People who were not in a position today to make it might be in a position tomorrow, but it’s very fluid,” said Martin.


“We’ll have buses ready and so forth and transport ready to take them to Cairo and we’ll do a further evaluation there if anybody requires any health services we can make those available here.”

In the sixth week of an unrelenting Israeli bombardment, this was a rare moment of hope. But more Irish nationals and dependents are still trapped in Gaza, possibly another 17. The fate of these people remains a top priority as Martin travels onwards to Tel Aviv.

In addition to talks on Thursday with Israeli officials, he will go to Ramallah in West Bank to meet Palestinian Authority representatives.

The Gaza death toll now exceeds 11,000, with thousands more injured as risks grow that the humanitarian catastrophe could lead to a regional conflagration. “The situation in Gaza is extremely grave,” Martin said. “Diplomacy needs to be there to make sure we don’t have that escalation.”

As horrific bloodshed worsens by the day, there is still no certainty over the status of eight-year-old Irish-Isreali girl Emily Hand. Once feared dead after Hamas militants killed 1,200 when they stormed Israel on October 7th, she is now presumed to have been taken hostage, without next of kin. A major diplomatic effort is under way to secure her release, a delicate and complex task with danger everywhere.

“The Egyptian authorities have been pretty helpful here and have a very good overview, given their past experience in negotiating ceasefires between Hamas and Israel,” the Tánaiste said.

“Those who have Emily and other hostages in captivity are keeping a very tight security zone around them. They’re not revealing any details as to locations or anything like that. That would be our understanding of it.

“We haven’t got any confirmation as to her precise location, whereabouts, or indeed, we haven’t had any definitive proof of life confirmation yet.”

Emily Hand turns nine on Friday. Martin raised her case on Wednesday when he met Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry in his ministry, a vast 33-storey edifice overlooking the river Nile. The diplomatic engagements don’t end there, with contact established with ministers in Qatar and Iran and the Palestinian Authority.

The basic aim at this point is to ensure she is included “in the first release of hostages if there is to be a release of hostages in the context of a deal”. Whether such a deal is realistically in prospect remains unclear, but Martin said the agreement to bring Irish nationals from Gaza reflected the power of diplomacy.

“What happened today is a vindication of diplomacy and essential nature of diplomacy itself,” he said in reply to questions about a Dáil motion to expel the Israel ambassador from Ireland.

“We cannot work without people on the ground, in states all over the region. I’ve been taken aback by the argument that the first thing you do in a war situation, or a conflict situation, is expel an ambassador. There’s no substance to that and it makes no sense. The conduct of diplomacy and the maintenance of communication channels, which are absolutely essential, even more essential in a time of conflict.”

Martin received a warm welcome from Shoukry. Given the friction between Dublin and Tel Aviv, his meeting with the Israelis may present more of a challenge. But he continues to press for a humanitarian ceasefire to halt the violence, saying he hopes to encourage regional leaders on a “pathway forward” for the conflict.

“Ultimately, there will have to be a political process on this issue to create a sustainable pathway for peace so that people can live in harmony in the region.”

But with no end in sight to the killing, a settlement to the conflict seems as far away as ever. “I’ve been consistent over 10 years [that] you cannot bomb Gaza without killing innocent women and children,” Martin said.

“The numbers of children dying, the number of civilians dying is excessive by any yardstick. So we want the violence to end.”

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley is Current Affairs Editor of The Irish Times