Ireland’s deputy premier said he will be pushing the European Union to impose sanctions on “terrorist” settlers in the West Bank, amid escalating violence in the region.

Tanaiste and foreign affairs minister Micheal Martin said Ireland is open to considering sanctions on such settlers at a national level if EU states cannot agree.

He said the proposed sanctions would apply to the Hamas leadership and “operatives”, as well as extremist West Bank settlers.

He added that the destruction of a school in the West Bank was a “manifestation” of the terrorising of Palestinians that has been taking place in recent weeks.

The Tanaiste described the humanitarian situation in Gaza as “absolutely dire” and said Israel’s bombardment of the enclave has been “resulting in death and misery on an unacceptable scale”.

“To witness the loss of the lives of so many children, I think, is absolutely horrifying,” he said.

The Israeli military operation in the Gaza strip was launched in the wake of an attack by Hamas militants on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 Israeli citizens.

Around 17,000 Palestinians have reportedly been killed in the bombardment, which has seen food and medical supplies severely limited and concerns about sanitation raised.

“If you read any of the analysis in respect of the bombardment, the size of the bombs that have been dropped, the frequency of the bombing, the destruction of houses – close to 60% of all homes now destroyed – thousands of people killed, the large majority of those children, that’s unacceptable from any humanitarian perspective,” Mr Martin said.

Ireland, Spain, Belgium and Malta are pushing for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.

Mr Martin was speaking at a meeting of foreign affairs ministers in Brussels, where Israel’s bombardment of Gaza and Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine was to be discussed.

“In the context of the West Bank, we’re very worried in terms of what is transpiring and the extreme violence of settlers in the West Bank who are terrorising Palestinians, causing the displacement of Palestinians, attacking schools and demolishing schools,” he told media.

“We will be calling for sanctions to be applied to extreme terrorist settlers on the West Bank; we’ll be calling for that today.

“There could be very specific sanctions because what the settlers are doing in the West Bank is undermining any possibility of a contiguous two-state solution to the Middle East, which we believe is the only viable solution at the end of the day, and the constant attacking and displacement of Palestinians in the West Bank undermines what is declared policy of the European Union, which is a two-state solution.

“It also runs the risk of provoking a further implosion in the West Bank, which is the last thing we need right now. And it’s interesting that the United States have led the way on that particular issue and Europe should be very clear and following on that.”

British Irish Council summit
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said it is Ireland’s ‘very strong view’ that there is no military solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine (PA)

Asked if Ireland will move unilaterally to impose sanctions such as travel bans on individuals if the EU agrees not to impose sanctions, Mr Martin said: “Yes we can and we’re certainly very open to that.”

He said Ireland aims to agree to measures through Europe because it has more of an impact – but “we want to push that the EU should do it as an entity”.

He added: “We have to be very clear: I think, from a European Union level, that we do not in any way find this behaviour by the settlers acceptable but that we must take action to demonstrate both symbolically and in real terms our opposition to what’s going on in the West Bank right now.”

Irish premier Leo Varadkar said it is Ireland’s “very strong view” that there is no military solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Mr Varadkar has expressed concern about starvation and disease in Gaza and said he and three other countries are going to push for a “lengthy” ceasefire at EU level.

The Taoiseach said he is going to Brussels on Wednesday to discuss the situation in Gaza with heads of government across the EU.

“We’ve a very strong view here in Ireland – and certainly Spain, Malta, Belgium – we’ve a very strong view that we need a lengthy ceasefire, a prolonged ceasefire, because the length of suffering now in Gaza for ordinary innocent Palestinian people, in my view, is unbearable,” he said.

“We’re getting to the point, according to the UN, where we may see starvation and we may see the spread of diseases because of the lack of food and water and that, in my view, is a disproportionate response and ultimately may lead to further people becoming radicalised and further trouble down the line.”

Mr Martin said he will also be calling for the “unhindered and unconditional resumption” of EU aid to the Palestinian Authority.

Mr Martin said he is “very concerned” that the Commission is holding up or delaying development aid to Palestinians, adding that despite a quadrupling of humanitarian aid to Palestine being announced, “on the ground that’s still not getting through”.

“We don’t want any additional conditionality and I’ll be saying that today, making that very clear, because it makes no sense,” he said.