French President Emmanuel Macron demanded a “lasting ceasefire” in Gaza during a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, his office said. Macron emphasized Israel’s obligation to protect civilians and the need to ensure aid reaches Gazans. “France will work in the coming days in cooperation with Jordan to carry out humanitarian operations in Gaza,” the French presidency added.
The enclave’s population remains in grave peril after an October 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel and Israel’s retaliation, with Israeli troops engaged in heavy urban fighting in the area. The Gaza Health Ministry says more than 21,000 Palestinians have been killed since then, including a large number of children and women. The military has retaliated by bombing and conducting ground invasions, forcing residents of the Palestinian enclave into ever-smaller areas as they seek refuge.
Israel has insisted that its operation is aimed at eliminating the threat of the jihadist group. However, Netanyahu has also repeatedly defended Israel’s scope of force and rejected calls for an immediate ceasefire. Despite his rebuff of those calls, the United Nations and other international bodies have urged the premier to tone down the scope of operations.
On his call with Netanyahu, Macron reiterated the need for a durable ceasefire “with the help of all regional and international partners.” “We cannot allow the idea to take hold that an effective fight against terrorism equates to razing Gaza or attacking civilian populations indiscriminately,” the French presidency quoted him as saying.
The leaders discussed ways to bring about the release of hostages in Gaza, including three French nationals, the Israeli government readout of the call said. Macron also pressed Israel to take all necessary steps to put an end to violence committed by certain settlers against Palestinian civilians and to suspend any settlement projects that threaten the two-state solution.
The readout added that Netanyahu thanked France for defending freedom of navigation in the Red Sea and for its willingness to assist in restoring security along the border with Lebanon. He also praised the European Union’s stance on the issue.
The conflict in Gaza has drawn condemnation from around the world, with the UN chief calling on Israel to show “moral leadership” and a commitment to the protection of civilians. The head of the World Health Organization said on Wednesday that Gaza’s population was living in “grave peril,” citing acute hunger and desperation in the war-torn enclave. In a separate development, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Wednesday warned that Israel would continue to take action against those who were attempting to infiltrate the country from its borders with Egypt and Syria. The minister also reaffirmed that Israel aims to return the residents of the enclave to their homes, according to Haaretz. Israel has announced it will begin daily four-hour military pauses in parts of northern Gaza, but the defense minister cautioned that the halts wouldn’t necessarily prevent an escalation.