Irish PM defends remarks after Israeli backlash

Speaking to Irish broadcaster RTÉ, Mr Varadkar said “the vast majority of people will understand” what he meant when he welcomed Emily Hand’s release.

“I’ve always been consistent in my unequivocal condemnation of Hamas and hostage taking,” the taoiseach said.

“I call for all hostages to released without any conditions and always have done so.

“The most important thing today is that [Emily] is at home with her family, and that’s all that really matters,” he added.

Mr Varadkar said Israel had also called in the ambassadors of Spain and Belgium, along with the Irish ambassador, and that all three will be happy to explain their countries’ position on the conflict.

Irish Ambassador to Israel Sonya McGuinness
Image caption,Irish ambassador Sonya McGuinness was summoned by Israel’s foreign minister on Sunday

The Tánaiste (Irish deputy Prime Minister) Micheál Martin has said he is “surprised” by Israel’s reaction to Mr Varadkar’s comment.

Also speaking to RTÉ, Mr Martin – who also serves as Ireland’s foreign minister – said anybody who read Mr Varadkar’s statement would be clear about the government’s condemnation of the Hamas attacks on Israel and the need to release all hostages.

“I’m surprised at the foreign minister’s reaction,” he said.

“We’re very clear, and have been in terms of our demands, and any pressure we could bring to bear to all regional partners… in terms of getting hostages released, that has been our entire focus.

“No doubt our ambassador in Tel Aviv has regular contact with the foreign ministry in Israel and will be very clear in outlining the Irish position.”

The tánaiste added he hopes the current ceasefire in Gaza could be built upon as the degree of loss of life has been shocking.

Earlier, Irish minister Paschal Donohoe told BBC NI’s Sunday Politics programme the taoiseach has been “unambiguous in condemning the violence of Hamas and also calling for restraint from Israeli military forces”.

A third group of hostages held in Gaza have now been released as part of a deal between Israel and Hamas.

Israel’s military began attacking Gaza after Hamas fighters crossed the border on 7 October, killing 1,200 Israelis and taking more than 200 hostages.

The Hamas-run health ministry says more than 14,500 people have been killed in Gaza – more than a third of them children – since Israel began its retaliatory action.

Under the terms of the Israel-Hamas temporary truce, a total of 50 hostages will be released during a four-day pause in fighting which began on 24 November at 07:00 (05:00 GMT).

Hamas said 150 Palestinian women and teenagers will be released from Israeli jails under the deal and hundreds of lorries of humanitarian aid, medical supplies and fuel will be allowed into Gaza.

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