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Leo Varadkar: Israeli ambassador will not be expelled after Gaza bloodshed

Palestinian protesters run for cover from tear gas fired by Israeli troops during a protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel. Picture by Khalil Hamra, Associated Press
Michelle Devane, Press Association

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has said the Israeli ambassador will not be expelled from the Republic in response to the conflict in Gaza.

Opposition TDs have called for the ambassador's expulsion after almost 60 Palestinians were killed and more than 2,700 injured by Israeli forces during protests on Monday.

Amid growing international condemnation, Israel insisted it had the right to defend its border against a possible mass breach and accused the militant Hamas movement of trying to carry out attacks under the cover of the protests.

Mr Varadkar said he was profoundly shocked by the death toll.

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

"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 because it would only result in shutting down dialogue.

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

Foreign Minister Simon Coveney held a meeting with the Israeli ambassador yesterday 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.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Theresa May has described the loss of life in Gaza protests as "tragic and extremely concerning" and urged Israel to show restraint.

Mrs May called for an "independent and transparent investigation" into the attacks. While accepting that Israel had the right to defend its borders, she said its use of live ammunition was "deeply troubling".

The tragic scenes overshadowed Mrs May's meeting at 10 Downing Street with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Mr Erdogan has called an emergency meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul on Friday to discuss the Gaza violence.

Speaking alongside Mrs May as the talks began, Mr Erdogan accused the United States of laying the foundations for the "horrible massacre" by fulfilling President Donald Trump's promise to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

In a press conference following their meeting, Mrs May said the situation in Gaza and the West Bank was "troubling".

"The loss of life we have seen is tragic and extremely concerning," she said. "Such violence is destructive to peace efforts and we call on all sides to show restraint."

President Erdogan said the Israeli ambassador to Ankara had been expelled yesterday afternoon and its own ambassador to Tel Aviv has been recalled for instructions from the government.

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