President and Foreign Minister join UK, French and UN calls to stop spiralling death toll
By Bernard Purcell
Ireland is calling on the international community to urgently intervene to stop the spiralling death toll as Palestinian protestors clash with Israeli Defence Forces in Gaza.
Dozens of Palestinian protestors have been killed following mass protests along the Gaza border. Conflicts have been inflamed by the official opening of the new US Embassy in Jerusalem following its relocation from Tel Aviv.
The Irish intervention follows calls by Britain, France and the UN Secretary General. By the start of this week 52 people were reported to have been killed and more than 2,200 wounded – half of them by live bullets – as protesters set tyres ablaze and hurled firebombs and stones toward Israeli troops on the other side of the Border.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said that among those who have been killed are six children under the age of 18. Israel says it is acting legitimately to prevent an armed incursion into its territory by protestors breaking through its border fence. It said its troops shot and killed three Palestinians who were trying to plant a bomb.
The Palestinian protests demanding the right to return to ancestral homes in Israel began on 30 March.
France and Britain had already called on Israel to show restraint and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “deeply concerned” by the events in Gaza.
President Michael D. Higgins, whose office must traditionally steer clear of expressing political comments, took the unusual step of issuing a public statement this week expressing dismay and concern at the loss of lives, the large number of injuries and the escalating violence at the Gaza border: “As President of Ireland I wish to express my deep concern at the deaths and injuries arising from the continued violent confrontations at the Gaza border.
Failure of diplomacy
“The escalating loss of life in Gaza is a tragic example of an unacknowledged failure of diplomacy. Now is the time for all of us to give voice to the yearning among our citizens for new thinking on achieving peaceful resolutions to the conflicts which challenge us all.
“What is urgently needed now are tangible steps to support a credible, internationally-led process towards peace and security in the region, which alone can bring a brighter, more inclusive future for all.
“At this very dangerous moment in time for the Middle East, I call on all involved to return to meaningful diplomacy, to avoid escalation and show the utmost care and respect for international treaties and agreements.”
At the same time Ireland’s Foreign Minister and Tánaiste Simon Coveney called for an independent investigation into what he said seemed a “disproportionate” use of force by the Israeli Defence Forces. Mr Coveney expressed his “profound shock” at the deaths and called on the Israeli army to show restraint to avoid a higher death toll.
“I am gravely concerned that the use of force seems disproportionate to the reported threat, and I reiterate that an independent investigation is urgently needed, as called for by the UN Secretary- General.
“It is essential that Israeli forces show restraint, if this tragic death toll is not to climb even higher. In the context of the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem, I call on all leaders to ensure that their statements today promote calm and do not further inflame tensions.”
Mr Coveney also declined an Israeli government invitation for Ireland to follow the example of the US and relocate its embassy to Jerusalem.
Israeli government spokeswoman Michal Maayan had said: “We’re inviting Ireland to join because the issue of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, it’s going to be the capital of Israel whatever future settlement we will arrive with Palestinians.
“Hence it’s not really a conflict, not for us, not for future agreements and I think we can see also the reaction amongst the Arab world, the rest of the world,” she told RTÉ. “Everyone thought the sky was going to fall when this resolution passed, when the announcement passed, when we can see that it’s all so natural for the US and other countries.
“So we call on Ireland to join this and to move its embassy and obviously Jerusalem is going to be a complex issue that will be resolved once the Palestinians return to the table to negotiations, this is going to be one of the issues but moving embassies to Jerusalem isn’t stopping peace.
“It’s actually helping peace because it’s helping the Palestinians realise that Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish state of Israel and it helps them realise a reality that’s very important to us to go further on.”
Mr Coveney said Ireland will not be moving its embassy to Jerusalem “unless and until there is a comprehensive agreement on a broader peace process”.
“It is also unwise to move the US embassy to Jerusalem…(it is) inflaming an already very tense situation and relationship between Palestinians and Israelis.”
Palestinians want East Jerusalem, annexed by Israel in 1967 but not accepted by the international community, as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Israel says Jerusalem is its spiritual and political capital.