The Taoiseach has expressed confidence that the release of hostages in Gaza will still go ahead despite a delay. However, Leo Varadkar said it remained unclear whether Irish-Israeli girl Emily Hand would be among the first group of hostages released. The nine-year-old is understood to be being held hostage by militants in Gaza after being captured in the Hamas attack on Kibbutz Be’eri on October 7.
A four-day pause in the fighting was due to come into effect on Thursday, with the hostage releases taking place thereafter, but that choreography was hit with a late hitch. A senior Israeli official has said the pause will now not take place until Friday at the earliest. “It’s hard to get accurate information because the situation is dynamic and changing every day,” Mr Varadkar told Newstalk Breakfast on Thursday. “The information that we have is that the agreement on the ceasefire and the hostage and prisoner exchange is still happening. “But most likely it will be tomorrow before we see it coming into effect. “It will be a four day ceasefire, the release of 50 hostages held by Palestinian militant groups in Gaza, so mainly children and women who have children being released and, in return, Israel will release 150 prisoners who are in their jails. And, again, mainly women and teenage boys being released. “And, in the meantime, there will be no military actions happening for those four days. “So we’re hoping obviously that’s the Irish Israeli girl Emily Hand is going to be released, she is on the priority list. “But, speaking to my contacts in the region, even Hamas isn’t clear exactly where everyone is, you know, it operates on the basis of cells, there’s other groups involved too, so you know, we’ll only know in the next few days as to whether she’s one of those being released but she’s certainly on the priority list. “So I think all of our thoughts are with her and her family. “I can’t imagine what a traumatic experience that is being held captive in a tunnel away from your family. “So hopefully she’s out in the next few days. “And, you know, maybe I’m a foolish optimist but if there can be ceasefire for four days, maybe there can be a ceasefire for a longer period. “I think it’s possible that there’s some suggestions that it could be extended if more hostages are released. “Of course, it creates some breathing space to get fuel, food, medicine, humanitarian aid into Gaza, which is so important.” Mr Varadkar reiterated his view that there was no military solution to the situation in the Middle East. He said Israelis and Palestinians either had to live together or a viable two-state solution had to be agreed. The Taoiseach again questioned the EU’s past approach to both Israel and Palestine. He claimed the bloc treated Israel as a normal western democracy without properly recognising the fact it was occupying Palestinian land and Brussels also provided aid and support to Palestine without pressing its representatives on the lack of elections since 2005 and on human rights issues. “Partially because Europe is divided on the question of Israel and Palestine, it’s been a passive approach, and I don’t think that’s sustainable,” he said. Mr Varadkar also pushed back against opposition parties advocating that Ireland act unilaterally to impose sanctions on Israel over its bombardment of Gaza. “I think those kinds of calls, I’m sure they come from a place of frustration and horror at what’s going on in the Middle East, but they’re coming almost entirely from people who have no experience of foreign policy, who have never once attended a European meeting, by which I mean a proper official EU meeting, have never represented their country abroad in a meaningful way,” he said. “And we know how sanctions operate: sanctions only work, if they do more harm to the country being sanctioned than the country that’s imposing the sanctions. “So when sanctions were imposed on Russia, South Africa, you name it, Iran, they’re done on a multilateral basis. “If one country acts on its own, a) it’s ineffective, the country being sanctioned isn’t affected much, they don’t really care, and you actually end up doing harm, sometimes to your own country because then you can become the victim of a counter boycott. “And we know, for example, in the US there are people who will counter boycott anyone who boycotts Israel. “Do we really want to get into that space, particularly when it wouldn’t help the Palestinians at all? “So if you’re going to take actions, particularly for a small country, you do so multilaterally, either as the EU or as the UN or even as a group of countries.”
Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.