French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday called for a “ceasefire” in Gaza when he opened a conference on aid for the Palestinian territory, under bombardment by Israel since the October 7 attack by Hamas.
“In the immediate term, we need to work on protecting civilians. To do that, we need a humanitarian pause very quickly and we must work towards a ceasefire,” Macron told delegates in Paris.
Israel has stayed away from the talks on aid for civilians in the Hamas-run enclave of 2.4 million people, where the health ministry says Israel’s military campaign has killed more than 10,500 people, many of them children.
Hamas militants stormed across the border from Gaza into Israel on October 7, killing more than 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and taking more than 240 hostages, Israeli officials say.
Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel retaliated with a massive, relentless bombardment and ground invasion.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said there will be no fuel delivered to Gaza and no ceasefire with Hamas unless the hostages are freed.
Macron spoke to Netanyahu on Tuesday and the pair will talk again once Thursday’s aid conference is over, the Elysee Palace said.
Moshe Tetro, an Israeli military officer handling civil affairs in Gaza, said on Thursday that although “the civil situation in the Gaza Strip is not an easy one,” the state sees “no humanitarian crisis.”
Negotiations are underway for the release of a dozen hostages held by Hamas, including six Americans, in return for a three-day ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, a source close to Hamas told AFP on Wednesday.
Another source said Qatar was mediating negotiations in coordination with the United States to free “10-15 hostages in exchange for a one- to two-day ceasefire.”
Qatar, like Egypt, has been playing a key role in attempts to bring more aid into the Gaza Strip.
Macron spoke to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani on Tuesday, his office said.
Thursday’s aid conference has been put together in a hurry on the sidelines of the annual Paris Peace Forum on November 10-11.
“The idea is to go around all the major donors and speed up aid to Gaza,” France’s foreign ministry said last week.
It said there would be sections on donations of goods such as food, fuel and medical supplies, financial support and humanitarian access.
Few Arab nations are expected to send delegates, although the Palestinian Authority will send its prime minister and Egypt a ministerial delegation.
The prime ministers of Greece, Ireland and Luxembourg will attend, along with the top European Union officials, Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen.
No joint declaration is planned at the end of the conference.
“(France) is insisting on a strictly pragmatic tone -- operational, humanitarian. They don’t want this conference to turn into a platform for condemning Israel,” a European diplomatic source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“We’re going to ask that aid enter Gaza because for now it’s just a few trucks each day,” Philippe Lazzarini, head of the United Nations’ Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, told broadcaster France Inter early on Thursday.
He said $100 million was needed just to pay salaries to UNRWA’s 30,000 employees.
The world body has “never registered so many deaths in such a short time in a conflict” among its staff, he added.
‘Pause’ or ceasefire?
International concern over the fate of Gaza’s civilians, most of whom cannot flee the sealed-off territory, has strengthened calls for humanitarian “pauses” or a full ceasefire.
Both European and US leaders are “having difficulty convincing (Israel) that there should be humanitarian pauses as soon as possible,” European Council head Michel told broadcaster France 2 early on Thursday.
“Israel has the right to defend itself, and this must be in line with the rules of international law,” he added.
Independent UN expert Balakrishnan Rajagopal said on Wednesday that Israel’s widespread and systematic bombardment of housing and civilian infrastructure in Gaza was a “war crime,” as were indiscriminate Hamas rocket attacks that hit Israeli dwellings.
G7 foreign ministers meeting in Japan on Wednesday called for “humanitarian pauses and corridors” to protect civilians but stopped short of calling for a ceasefire.
By contrast, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres has said that “the unfolding catastrophe makes the need for a humanitarian ceasefire more urgent with every passing hour.”
And 13 major aid groups, including Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Oxfam and the Norwegian Refugee Council, on Wednesday urged leaders attending the conference to push for a halt to fighting.
Government leaders should “do everything in their power to obtain an immediate ceasefire” and stepped-up access for aid, they said.
Israel has for now remained firm in keeping up its offensive, with the stated objective of destroying Hamas -- which has governed Gaza since 2007.
The UN estimates that $1.2 billion in aid will be needed for the populations of Gaza and the West Bank from now until the end of the year.