Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Minister defends abstention

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan claimed the resolution was too narrow

Ireland's refusal to support a United Nations inquiry into allegations of war crimes in Gaza is a dereliction of the state's proud humanitarian history, it has been claimed.

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan defended the decision to abstain from a resolution on the deaths of hundreds of civilians claiming it was too narrow and did not condemn indiscriminate Hamas rocket fire into Israel.

Both Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein fiercely attacked the newly appointed minister over the controversy.

Mr Flanagan met Palestinian ambassador Ahmed Abdelrazek in Dublin in the wake of the vote, although officials insisted the meeting had been planned for over a week and did not include talks on the UN debate.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin and foreign affairs spokesman Brendan Smith said the attempts to justify Ireland's abstention were depressing.

"What is happening in Gaza is an outrage and it is happening in plain sight," they said in a joint statement.

"If the international community is not able to find the moral courage to speak out on an issue which is as clearly unacceptable as the killing of young children or the bombing of a UN school housing refugees, one is left to wonder what level of atrocity is needed before we say stop."

The Palestinian death toll in the conflict is reported to have passed 700.

The latest victims included at least 15 people killed and scores wounded when Israeli shells bombed a UN-run school where Palestinian refugees were sheltering.

Thirty-two Israeli soldiers have died in Gaza and in clashes with Hamas fighters who have passed over the border in tunnels.

Mr Flanagan also met four other Arab ambassadors in Dublin as the death toll escalates - Morocco ambassador Anas Khales, Saudi Arabia's Abdulaziz Abdulrahman Aldriss, Egypt's deputy head of mission Ahmed Mostafa and Mohammed Al-Shamisi, a diplomat for the United Arab Emirates.

It is understood they did not press for an explanation on why Ireland abstained from the vote.

Mr Flanagan condemned the attack on the school in Gaza.

"While Ireland worked hard at the Human Rights Council yesterday to achieve a resolution which would reflect accurately the human rights situation in Gaza and not prejudge the outcome of any investigation," the minister said.

"Had the changes we worked so hard for, we could have voted In favour."

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said the abstention was a shameful act of political cowardice.

"The Israeli government is acting with impunity and the EU and the Irish government are failing to stand up to Israeli aggression," Mr Adams said.

"The statistics of death and destruction, and in particular the slaughter of women and children, has to be stopped."

Mr Adams repeated his call for the Irish Government to expel the Israeli ambassador.

Ireland sided with nine European Union countries in not voting for a resolution to set up a commission of inquiry into the events in Gaza at the UN Human Rights Council yesterday.

An EU statement raised concerns that the text was "unbalanced, inaccurate and prejudges the outcome of the investigation".

Ireland had pushed for a resolution that recognised the need for a more urgent inquiry using the UN High Commissioner in Ramallah and to condemn rocket fire from Gaza.

Meanwhile, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in London for meetings with the British Government, expressed regret for the civilians who had died but said that responsibility lay with Hamas and its allies in Islamic jihad.

"This use of human shields is extraordinarily cynical, it is grotesque, it's inhuman," he said.

Mr Netanyahu also bitterly condemned the UN vote.

More than 118,000 people are now believed to be sheltering in UN schools in Gaza following days of incessant tank shelling and missile firing into the region from Apache helicopter gun ships and F-16 fighters.

Israel has stated that the campaign will last for several more days.

It has claimed that the purpose of the military action is to destroy rocket launch sites used by terrorists linked to Hamas and other organisations and to destroy tunnels which have been built as part of plans to attack Israeli sites.

Later, Mr Flanagan said that despite abstaining in the UN vote Ireland would now support the resolution.

"We absolutely condemn all violence and civilian deaths. This violence must stop. We are working bilaterally, at EU level and internationally to resolve the crisis, end the carnage and bring about an immediate ceasefire," the minister said.

"We fully support and called yesterday for any breaches of international law which have occurred to be fully investigated. We would have preferred if existing structures and the expertise of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had been availed of to conduct the earliest possible investigation but will now actively support implementation of the resolution adopted."

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