Latest: Taoiseach profoundly shocked by Gaza death toll; Israeli ambassador defends country's action

Ze’ev Boker

Update 7.55pm: The Taoiseach has told the Dáil today that the government is profoundly shocked by the death toll after almost 60 Palestinians were killed and more than 2,700 injured by Israeli forces during protests on Monday.

Leo Varadkar also said the Israeli ambassador will not be expelled from Ireland.

He said: "There is no indication that the scale of the threat could have justified such violence and so many deaths.

Live ammunition is not a tool to be used for crowd control in our view.

He added: "The Government will not be expelling the ambassador at this time. In fact in recent decades, if ever, Ireland has never expelled an ambassador. That is not the way we believe we should engage with other states.

"If we were to expel their ambassador they would expel ours."

Mr Varadkar said that would not help to solve the conflict as it would only result in shutting down dialogue.

The Irish embassy will remain in Tel Aviv, he said.

Opposition TDs have called for the Israeli ambassador to Ireland to be expelled.

Sinn Fein's Pearse Doherty condemned the actions of Israeli forces in the Dail.

"What happened in Gaza yesterday was a massacre, there is no other way to describe it," Mr Doherty said.

"The actions of Israel are undermining efforts to secure a sustainable and peaceful two-state solution and must be urgently challenged by the international community. And without sanction and without adequate diplomatic response I fear more innocent civilians will be killed in the coming days."

Foreign Minister Simon Coveney held a meeting with the Israeli ambassador on Tuesday morning to discuss the conflict.

Mr Varadkar said the ambassador was told of Ireland's "outrage" and desire for an independent international investigation lead by the UN into the deaths.

A book of condolence will be opened on Wednesday at the Mansion House in Dublin to allow people to express their sympathies for those killed.

Update 5.35pm: Israeli ambassador to Ireland defends country's action

The Israeli ambassador to Ireland has defended the actions of his country's forces in Gaza.

Ze’ev Boker said Israel was justified in how it responded to yesterday's protests.

"So when Israel had to cope with this terrorist act, orchestrated by the Hamas, we did our utmost to avoid civilian casualties.

"But no country, including Ireland will tolerate any penetration of its legitimate borders."

On Monday, Israeli troops firing from across a border fence killed 59 Palestinians and wounded more than 2,700 at a mass protest in Gaza.

Israel says it has the right to defend its border against a possible mass breach and accuses Gaza’s Hamas rulers of trying to carry out attacks under the cover of the protests.

Meanwhile, Orli Weitzman -the Deputy Ambassador of Israel to Ireland - agrees that expulsion is not the way forward.

"I think if there's one country in the world that understands the importance of negotiations, of direct dialogue, of keeping the lines of communication open - it's Ireland.

"I think always dialogue and talking and trying to find a solution is always better than any other option.

"And I think if people thought about it seriously and really wanted to help Palestinians they would keep these lines of dialogue open and would put pressure on Hamas to stop the killing."

- Digital Desk & PA

Update 3.55pm: Gaza slaughter denounced by Irish academics; Minister says Israeli ambassador will not be expelled

Academics in Ireland have added their voices to the growing international call for action against Israel’s ongoing slaughter of protesters in Gaza.

Academics for Palestine (AfP), a group that works to forge links with scholars and students in Palestine and to support an academic boycott of Israeli institutions, said its members were full of horror and anger about events in Gaza.

“This open and unapologetic massacre of unarmed civilians shows why we urgently need to break links with the Israeli state and with complicit institutions,” AfP chair Ronit Lentin said.

“The EU and Ireland facilitate these murders by funding and working with Israeli companies and universities that are integral parts of the brutal occupation of Palestine.”

US President Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka, right, and US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin during the opening ceremony of the new US embassy in Jerusalem, Monday, May 14, 2018. Meanwhile, an elderly Palestinian man falls on the ground after being shot by Israeli troops during a deadly protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel on the same day.

Students, children and lecturers have been among the many hundreds of victims of Israeli rifle-fire near the wall that separates the besieged Gaza strip from Israel.

For many years, educational institutions in Gaza have been crippled by the stranglehold Israel holds over the territory, preventing travel and blocking materials from reaching Gaza’s 2 million residents. Schools and universities have been bombed in previous Israeli assaults. In the occupied West Bank, too, Palestinians students and the institutions where they study regularly come under Israeli attack.

Palestinian students who are fortunate enough to study abroad often face difficulty returning home to their families.

AfP representatives met over the weekend with Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Barghouti told Irish supporters that popular sentiment here needs to be matched by concrete action from the Irish Government to hold Israel accountable for its actions.

AfP urged its supporters to attend protest and solidarity events around Ireland during this week, with various events marking 70 years since the ‘Nakba’ saw the expulsion of more than 750,000 Palestinians from their homes.

Update 2.56pm: Israeli ambassador to Ireland will not be expelled despite calls from opposition

The Israeli ambassador to Ireland will not be expelled despite calls from the opposition.

Sinn Féin called for the expulsion and also say Ireland's diplomats should be withdrawn from Israel after 58 people were killed in Gaza.

Speaking in the Dáil, Pearse Doherty said the Tánaiste should have told the Israeli Ambassador "to pack his bags."

"The government must expel the Israeli Ambassador to Ireland in response to these murders and the flagrant disregard for international law, as well as recalling the Irish Ambassador to Israel in protest."

The Foreign Affairs Minister told the Israeli ambassador he was outraged about what has happened.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin says there needs to be an EU wide response to that.

"I think it is time for Ireland to take a stand," said Minister Howlin.

"I think it is time for Ireland to say very clearly that what has happened yesterday is just too much. It's not acceptable. And there must be a response to that.

"I think that ideally, we should act in consult with our European colleagues, in the same way we stood in solidarity with all our colleagues against Russia."

- Digital Desk

Earlier: Tánaiste summons Israeli ambassador over Gaza violence

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has summoned the Israeli ambassador to Ireland to a meeting to discuss yesterday's violent scenes in Gaza.

Mr Coveney is expected to express his outrage on behalf of Ireland and to call for restraint from Israel.

It comes after at least 58 Palestinians were killed and more than 2,700 injured during mass protests along the Gaza border yesterday while the US opened its new embassy just a few miles away.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Mr Coveney said: "Our mission in Ramallah reports that emergency responders in Gaza and the strips health services are overwhelmed with the level of casualties."

"Ireland is also very disturbed by the injuries suffered by health workers as reported by the WHO: 211 recorded attacks against health workers in Gaza, attending the large numbers of injured during mass demonstrations at the border fence.

Nine sustained bullet wounds, 13 were injured by tear gas canisters and 189 suffered with tear gas inhalation. 25 ambulances were also damaged.

Mr Coveney said yesterday that the conflict was "shocking and tragic for a people living in impossible and unsustainable conditions".

"We all have a political responsibility to try to reduce tensions and protect unarmed protesters," he said.

The UN Security Council plans to meet today to discuss violence along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip as yesterday was the deadliest day of violence there since a 2014 war.

- Digital Desk

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