Ireland has been given no indication its citizens are being prevented from leaving Gaza as a form of punishment for calling for a ceasefire, the Taoiseach has said.
Leo Varadkar said around 8,000 EU and other foreign nationals remain in the enclave, and only 20% of EU citizens have been allowed to leave so far through the Rafah crossing to Egypt.
He was responding to a claim from People Before Profit – Solidarity TD Paul Murphy that countries like Ireland and Brazil that voted in favour of a ceasefire at the United Nations were being punished by Israel.
Mr Murphy said citizens of countries that voted in line with Israel at the UN had found themselves on the approved lists of people allowed to leave through the Rafah crossing.
Around 35-40 Irish passport holders remain in Gaza. As of Wednesday, they had been unable to secure passage out via Rafah.
Irish-Israeli girl Emily Hand, eight, is also feared to be in the hands of Hamas in Gaza as a hostage.
During exchanges in the Dail, Mr Murphy again condemned Israel’s ongoing bombardment of Gaza and urged Mr Varadkar to expel the Israeli ambassador to Ireland.
Mr Varadkar insisted suspending the diplomatic credentials of ambassador Dana Erlich would hinder Ireland’s attempts to secure Emily’s release and secure the safe passage of other Irish citizens from Gaza.
During Leaders’ Questions, Mr Murphy said: “Isn’t it true, Taoiseach, that Irish citizens together with Brazilian citizens are effectively being held hostage by the Israeli regime in Gaza, that while other countries’ citizens have been allowed to leave – the US, Germany, Britain – Irish and Brazilians have not been allowed to leave by Israel?
“And that those countries whose citizens are allowed to leave are those who voted in line with Israel against the ceasefire, and that effectively Irish and Brazilian citizens are being punished by Israel for our vote in favour of ceasefire at the UN.
“The best thing for Irish citizens in Gaza and everyone else is for the bombing and the assault to stop and the more pressure on Israel, the more isolation of Israel, the more pressure put on Israel to do precisely that.
“The best thing we can do precisely is to expel the ambassador and to send a signal to them and to the whole world.”
Mr Varadkar again rejected the calls for Ms Erlich’s expulsion.
“There are roughly 8,000 EU foreign nationals in Gaza, only a handful have been allowed to leave so far,” he said.
“Only about 20% of EU citizens have been allowed so far, and we’ve been given no indication that Ireland is somehow being penalised for the stance we are taking in our call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.
“We will not change our position on that, no matter what.”