French President Macron opens Gaza aid conference with appeal to Israel to protect civilians

The gathering in Paris brought together officials from Western and Arab nations, the United Nations and NGOs, with the aim of providing urgent aid to civilians in the Gaza Strip

Guerra entre Israel y Hámas: El Presidente Emmanuel Macron en la conferencia internacional de ayuda humanitaria para Gaza
French President Emmanuel Macron next to French Foreign and European Affairs Minister Catherine Colonna during an international humanitarian conference for the civilian population in Gaza, at the Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris, France, November 09 2023.LUDOVIC MARIN / POOL (EFE)

French President Emmanuel Macron opened a Gaza aid conference on Thursday with an appeal for Israel to protect civilians as it fights Hamas, saying “all lives have equal worth” and that fighting terrorism “can never be carried out without rules.”

The gathering in Paris brought together officials from Western and Arab nations, the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations, with the aim of providing urgent aid to civilians in the Gaza Strip that is being pounded by Israel in its war against Hamas. Israeli authorities weren’t invited but have been informed of the talks, Macron’s office said.

More than 1.5 million people — or about 70% of Gaza’s population — have fled their homes, and an estimated $1.2 billion is needed to respond to the crisis in Palestinian areas.

Macron reiterated calls for a humanitarian pause in Israel’s operations. He said that by attacking Israel on Oct. 7, Hamas “shouldered the responsibility for exposing Palestinians to terrible consequences,” and he again defended Israel’s right to defend itself.

But Macron also stressed that civilians must be protected. “It’s absolutely essential. It is non-negotiable,” he said.

“All lives have equal worth and there are no double standards for those of us with universal and humanist values,” he said. “Fighting terrorism can never be carried out without rules. Israel knows that. The trap of terrorism is for all of us the same: giving in to violence and renouncing our values,” he added.

Longer term, Macron also said diplomatic work must resume on bringing peace to the Middle East, with a two-state solution. “We must learn from our errors and no longer accept that peace in the Middle East always be pushed back to later,” he said.

Israel did not respond immediately to the conference’s outcomes. Officials from over 50 nations were attending, including several European countries, the United States and regional powers such as Jordan, Egypt and the Gulf countries.

Also attending is Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, who urged the international community to “put an end to the war.” “How many Palestinians have to be killed for the war to end?” he asked. “What Israel is doing is not a war against Hamas, it’s a war against the whole Palestinian people.” “We must take care of the wounded, provide electricity, water, medicines,” Shtayyeh added.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry stressed that Israel had only allowed limited quantities of humanitarian aid through the Rafah crossing and urged “the entire international community, and donor countries in particular, to continue supporting the Palestinian people in Gaza.”

“The aid that has already entered Gaza is not enough to meet the needs of the entire population, and the voluntary and deliberate complications imposed by Israel on the delivery of aid only lead to a further deterioration of the situation,” he said.

Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides outlined his plan for a humanitarian sea corridor to Gaza “to provide continued rapid, safe and unhindered flow of humanitarian aid in a pragmatic and effective manner.”

He said the plan is being discussed “with all parties concerned, including Israel” and provides options for the short, medium and longer term. Ships would deliver the aid from Cyprus’ main port of Limassol, about 255 miles (410 kilometers) away.

French officials said they are also considering evacuating injured people to hospital ships in the Mediterranean off the Gaza coast. Paris sent a helicopter carrier off the Cyprus coast and is preparing another with medical capacities on board for that purpose. Thursday’s discussions also include financial support to help Gaza’s civilians.

Macron announced Thursday that France will provide an additional 80 million euros ($85 million) in humanitarian aid for Gaza civilians, bringing France’s funding to a total of 100 million euros ($107 million) this year.

On Tuesday, the German government said it will provide 20 million euros ($21 million) in new funding, in addition to releasing 71 million euros ($76 million) already earmarked for the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees following a review it launched after the Hamas attack.

Denmark has decided to increase its humanitarian aid to the civilian population in Gaza by 75 million kroner ($10.7 million), to be channeled via U.N. agencies and the International Red Cross.

European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen were also attending the conference. The 27-nation bloc is the world’s top aid supplier to the Palestinians. “We have quadrupled the humanitarian support for Gaza and the West Bank, but it’s mostly for Gaza, to 100 million euros ($107 million),” von der Leyen said.

In a news conference following the conference, human rights and aid groups urged an immediate cease-fire, which they said is crucial for them to be able to work in Gaza.

Isabelle Defourny, president of Doctors Without Borders France, said “we’re determined to do everything we can, but if the only thing we get is a day or two without fighting … that won’t be enough.”

“We are quite disappointed,” said Jean-François Corty, vice president of Doctors of the World. “From our point of view ... the challenge is not so much to mobilize aid as to get it in (Gaza), so that it can be redistributed.”

The secretary general of Amnesty International, Agnès Callamard, said, “what’s happening in Gaza is a litany of violations of international law ... not seen since World War II,” and denounced “indiscriminate, disproportionate, deliberate attacks.”

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