Middle East Peace Process – 22 November 2012

Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade   the discussions he has had with his EU counterparts in relation to the outbreak of violence in the Gaza strip; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52025/12]

56. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade   if has had raised the issue of the outbreak of violence in the Gaza strip with Egyptian officials; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52026/12]

57. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade   if he has raised the issue of Israeli strikes against the Gaza strip with the Israeli ambassador; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52027/12]

58. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade   his plans to accelerate joint EU action against illegal Israeli settlements in view of recent violence in the Gaza strip; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52028/12]

59. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade   his plans to provide humanitarian assistance to the Gaza strip in view of the recent outbreak of violence. [52029/12]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore):   I propose to take Questions Nos. 55 to 59, inclusive, together.

Though tensions had risen following a number of incidents on either side in recent weeks, the latest round of violence was triggered by sustained rocket attacks launched on towns in Israel from Gaza. There was further escalation with the targeted killing of a senior Hamas leader.

In statements on 15 and 18 November, I expressed the Government’s deep concern over the increase in violence and its effects in particular on innocent civilians. I called clearly for a cessation of all attacks and the establishment of a durable ceasefire.

On 19 November, I discussed the situation in Gaza with my EU colleagues in the Foreign Affairs Council. We agreed that the efforts of the Egyptian Government and of other players to broker a ceasefire agreement provided the best chance of bringing this exchange of attacks to an end and we expressed our full support for those efforts. The Council reiterated the need for an immediate ceasefire and noted that this outbreak of violence underlined the urgent need for progress to achieve a wider political settlement to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

My Department was in contact with Egyptian officials to express our support and encouragement for their efforts. We were also in contact with the Israeli authorities, both through the Ambassador here and through our own Embassy in Tel Aviv. We repeated our concerns about civilian casualties and about the need to avoid further escalation, in particular through the possible launching of a ground campaign. We acknowledged, as is appropriate and as we have always done, Israel’s right to protect itself and its citizens from attack. But we emphasised that this right is not a blank cheque. Any actions taken must be proportionate and must clearly distinguish military targets from civilian facilities.

I very much welcome the announcement of a ceasefire by all parties yesterday evening. The ceasefire appears to have come into effect as intended, and it is essential that all sides fully respect its terms. The peoples of both Gaza and Israel should be able to live their lives without fear. I commend the prompt and intensive efforts of the Egyptian Government to bring about this cessation of violence.

I do not consider it appropriate to attempt in EU discussions to link this conflict to the separate question of Israeli settlements. Indeed, I believe it would be counterproductive to do so. The Israeli settlements in Gaza were evacuated in 2005.

Following my recent discussions with Commissioner General Filippo Grandi of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) here in Dublin, and in light of the serious situation now in Gaza, I am considering the possibility, in light of the evolving situation on the ground, of providing additional funding for UNRWA’s Emergency Appeal for Gaza. In 2012 so far, my Department, through the Irish Aid programme, has already provided €4.2 in support to UNRWA for its activities across its five areas of operation in the Middle East region, including in Gaza.

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