Leo Varadkar
US President Joe Biden (R) shakes hands with Taoiseach of Ireland Leo Varadkar during a St. Patrick’s Day Celebration in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on March 17, 2024. AFP

Palestinians "need the bombs to stop," Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Sunday as he made an impassioned plea for a ceasefire in Gaza, speaking during a St Patrick's Day reception at the White House.

US President Joe Biden has been hosting Varadkar in Washington for an annual visit celebrating the close ties between the United States and Ireland, as 10 percent of Americans claim ancestral roots there.

"The people of Gaza desperately need food, medicine and shelter, and most especially they need the bombs to stop," Varadkar said as Biden, who has come under pressure both internationally and at home over his support for ally Israel, looked on.

"The aspirations of the Palestinian people to have a homeland and a fully fledged state in the land of their forefathers is equal to that of Israel's," he added.

Varadkar has been one of Europe's most critical leaders over Israel's campaign in Gaza, which began when Palestinian militant group Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on the southern part of the country.

The attack left about 1,160 dead in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.

Since then nearly 32,000 people have been killed in Gaza, most of them women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

According to Varadkar, "the Irish people are deeply troubled about the catastrophe that's unfolding before our eyes in Gaza."

"We see our history in their eyes, a story of displacement, of dispossession, and (in which) national identity questions are denied. Forced emigration, discrimination, and now hunger," he said, invoking his country's bitter memories of its own struggles against British rule.

The prime minister, also known as the Taoiseach in Irish, said he has "always believed America is a force for good in the world" and praised US efforts "to secure a humanitarian ceasefire and to create space for lasting peace."

Biden, who frequently refers to his own Irish heritage, has grown more outwardly critical of Israel and its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in recent weeks.

"The Taoiseach and I agree about the urgent need to increase humanitarian aid to Gaza and get the ceasefire deal... that brings the (Israeli) hostages home and moves towards a two-state solution," he said Sunday.

Netanyahu vowed again Sunday that Israeli troops will enter the southernmost Gaza city of Rafah, where roughly 1.5 million Palestinians are sheltering.

The United States has demanded a "clear and implementable plan" to protect civilians there, while Varadkar on Sunday called on Israel to abandon the planned incursion.

On Friday, the Irish leader had even more stridently called out the United States' support for Israel.

"I think none of us like to see American weapons being used in the way they are. The way they're being used at the moment is not self-defense," Varadkar said after meeting with Biden in the Oval Office.