‘Horrific’ loss of life in Gaza and Israel has to be addressed, says Michael D Higgins

President calls for immediate humanitarian ceasefire and release of hostages

President Michael D Higgins has described the loss of life in Gaza and Israel as “horrific” and called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.

In a strongly worded statement released on Thursday, Mr Higgins also said that international bodies – including the European Union – who “remain silent” or “allow their messages to have ambiguous construction have a responsibility to commit to vindicating international law”.

The densely populated region of Gaza has been under total blockade and continuous Israeli bombardment for almost four weeks after the Hamas attack in October.

In his statement, Mr Higgins said that the “ongoing horrific loss of civilian life in Gaza and Israel has to be addressed”.


“It should concern us all. Violence by non-state as well as state actors must be described for what it is – breaches of international humanitarian law. If international law is to respected, it is important that hostages be released and an immediate humanitarian ceasefire be put in place.”

He pointed towards the fact that a large proportion of those being killed are women and children, saying it is important that there “be a verification of figures, that the lives lost are not reduced to competing press releases”.

Most recent reports put the number of child fatalities in Gaza at more than 3,500.

Fintan O'Toole on Israel, Gaza and the equality of human life

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The response to the Hamas terror attack on October 7th has been fierce. In the weeks since then, Israel has unleashed a war against Hamas but in which thousands of civilians in Gaza have lost their lives. Where will that war lead, and who will rule Gaza if Israel achieves its goal of eliminating Hamas? Irish Times columnist Fintan O'Toole talks to Hugh Linehan about why the only viable process is a peace process - and why Israel's current government is not able to envisage one.

Furthermore, Mr Higgins said that the enlistment of civilians for military purposes on any side “has to be recognised and addressed” and that “collective punishment is not something we can accept and claim to be advocates of international law”.

“It is simply unacceptable that hospitals and those being cared for within them are threatened by the basic lack of resources, damaged or indeed threated with destruction, or those within them forced to be evacuated.”

Mr Higgins also called for all of the facts around the conflict to be independently verified.

“Those in the international community who are anxious to support international law, see it vindicated in its fullest sense, including the Geneva Convention, must press for an independent verification of the facts.

“When it comes to the protection of children, no other issues should stand in the way for even a minute. Friendships, alliances and partnerships are tested by what cannot be avoided if diplomacy is to return and replace war.”

He said he is proud of the Irish NGOs who are responding to what is unfolding in Gaza, saying they have performed “great acts of courage and humanity” in the worst of circumstances.

“If we are to move past the present events, we need the capacity to verify what are the facts on the ground and to respond to them, removing all blocks to humanitarian relief, indicating how a space for diplomacy can be found, and out of all of this how a consistent diverse body of proposals might come forward, ones that can deliver a reasonable security to citizens of Israel, and at the same time achieve the delivery of the long-neglected rights of the Palestinian people; offering the prospect of peace to future generations who must share space and life together as neighbours.”

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times