Irish FM says EU mulling sanctions on Israel if it defies ICJ ruling on Rafah

Dublin’s top diplomat also says sanctions may be placed on officials who aid violent West Bank settlers, in comments ahead of move to officially recognize Palestinian state

Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin holds a joint press conference with his Spanish and Norwegian counterparts at the the Permanent Representation of Spain to the European Union in Brussels on May 27, 2024. (Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)
Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin holds a joint press conference with his Spanish and Norwegian counterparts at the the Permanent Representation of Spain to the European Union in Brussels on May 27, 2024. (Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

Irish Foreign Minister Micheál Martin said Monday that he and his European Union counterparts had a “significant” discussion about the possibility of levying sanctions on Israel if it fails to comply with international humanitarian law.

“For the first time at an EU meeting, in a real way, I’ve seen significant discussion on sanctions and ‘what if,’” Martin told reporters following a meeting of the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels.

He qualified that there is “some distance between people articulating the need for a sanctions-based approach if Israel does not comply with the ICJ’s ruling … to agreement in the Council meeting, given all of the different perspectives there.”

The Irish foreign minister told reporters that the discussion focused on provisional orders issued by the International Court of Justice last week calling on Israel to halt military operations in Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah that would risk the destruction of the civilian population sheltering there.

Martin was quoted as saying that the EU foreign ministers agreed that Israel should “adhere to those provisional orders… and cease its military operations in Rafah.”

While Martin and the EU ministers appear to interpret the ruling as a definitive call for Israel to halt all military activity in Rafah, Israel says that is not the case, pointing to the arguments of four ICJ justices that the key operative clause in the ruling does not require that Israel immediately halt all operations there, but rather that it specifically halt military operations that “could bring about physical destruction in whole or in part” of the Palestinians.

Martin did not give details on the types of sanctions discussed by the EU diplomats.

Palestinians inspect damage after an Israeli airstrike on what the IDF said was a Hamas compound, adjacent to a camp for internally displaced people in Rafah, Gaza Strip, May 27, 2024. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Irish news outlet RTE quoted Martin as saying that a number of foreign ministers had also raised the possibility of sanctions against Israeli officials who were aiding and abetting violent West Bank settlers.

So far, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and the European Union have sanctioned only the violent settlers themselves in recent months, amid a surge of incidents since October 7, and a 15-year high in 2023.

The EU meeting followed Israeli airstrikes near Rafah on Sunday night that drew outraged reactions from Palestinians and around the world, with Hamas health authorities reporting that 45 people were killed and dozens injured in the attack and in an ensuing blaze in a camp housing displaced civilians.

The Israel Defense Forces said it had targeted a Hamas compound and eliminated two commanders in the terror group’s ranks, and that it is investigating what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a “tragic mishap.”

Ireland has been among the most vocal critics of Israel over the war against Hamas. Along with Spain and Norway, it is due to formalize their recognition of a Palestinian state on Tuesday. The United States and some other European countries favor reviving negotiations on resolving the conflict before recognizing a Palestinian state.

The move by Ireland, Spain, and Norway was denounced as a “reward for terrorism” by Israel, which is waging a war in the Gaza Strip sparked by Hamas’s shock October 7 assault, when thousands of terrorists stormed into southern Israel to kill nearly 1,200 people and take 252 hostages amid rampant atrocities.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 36,000 people in the Strip have been killed or are presumed dead in the fighting so far, though only some 24,000 fatalities have been identified at hospitals. The toll, which cannot be verified, includes some 15,000 terror operatives Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Two hundred and eighty-eight soldiers have been killed during the ground offensive against Hamas and amid operations along the Gaza border. A civilian Defense Ministry contractor has also been killed in the Strip.

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