More than 20 Irish citizens out of Gaza through Rafah crossing

More than 20 Irish citizens have left the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing into Egypt.

Irish premier Leo Varadkar said arrangements are in place for staff from the country’s embassy in Cairo to provide consular assistance to them, including travel back to Ireland.

He told a meeting of Fine Gael’s parliamentary party on Wednesday night that diplomatic relations are being maintained with all countries and ambassadors to ensure Irish people get out of Gaza safely.

Mr Varadkar said he was glad to see this has resulted in “up to 30 Irish citizens and their dependants gaining entry to Egypt from today”.

He said every effort is ongoing across Government to ensure the safety of all Irish people in Gaza, the release of Irish-Israeli girl Emily Hand from Hamas and the security of 450 troops in the region.

Twenty-three Irish citizens had crossed the border by mid afternoon.

Around 35 to 40 Irish passport holders were understood to be in the enclave prior to Wednesday’s crossings.

Ireland’s deputy premier Micheal Martin confirmed the crossings on Wednesday.

Micheal Martin
Tanaiste Micheal Martin said it was a ‘fluid’ situation in terms of the number of citizens who were yet to exit through the crossing (Brian Lawless/PA)

“We will bus them from there to Cairo, our diplomatic team are on the ground there at Rafah, and then for onward transport to Dublin or wherever the citizens may wish to go. It is good news,” he told RTE.

Mr Varadkar said calls to expel the Israeli ambassador to Ireland will “not be helpful and in turn, will lead to the Irish ambassador to Israel being expelled”.

He told the meeting of his parliamentary party that those calls from Opposition parties are “not common sense or responsible politics”, adding “they are each trying to outflank each other”.

Mr Varadkar added that recent remarks by world leaders on ceasing fighting near hospitals, explicitly calling for a ceasefire by all sides and adhering to international law were “somewhat encouraging”.

Meanwhile Mr Martin met his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry and secretary general of the Arab League Ahmed Aboul Gheit in Cairo on Wednesday and will have talks with senior representatives from Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the coming days.

He said it was a “fluid” situation in terms of the number of citizens, and their dependants, who were still to come out through the crossing.

“We’re continuing to work on that with the Israeli authorities in terms of finalising lists and so forth,” he said.

Mr Martin said Ireland’s diplomatic network had been engaging with the authorities in Israel and Egypt to secure safe passage for the Irish citizens trapped in Gaza.

“We had concerns that they hadn’t come out earlier, if I’m honest, and I’m more relieved today now than I have been for a while because of course the situation in Gaza is very serious, very dangerous,” he said.

Mr Martin said he had been engaging with authorities in Qatar in a bid to secure the release of Emily Hand, eight, who was believed to be a hostage of Hamas in Gaza.

“It’s very traumatic to have an eight-year-old young girl in captivity with no next of kin, so we’re very focused on that,” he said.

Mr Martin is in Egypt ahead of other planned trips in the region.

Emily’s Dublin-born father Tom and her half-sister Natali have been in Ireland this week along with relatives of other hostages to raise awareness of the situation and ask for Irish support to secure their release.

They had a meeting with Mr Martin in Dublin and also met Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and President of Ireland Michael D Higgins.