World

Emmanuel Macron appeals to Israel to protect civilians at Gaza aid conference

French President Emmanuel Macron appealed for Israel to protect civilians (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
French President Emmanuel Macron appealed for Israel to protect civilians (AP Photo/Michel Euler) French President Emmanuel Macron appealed for Israel to protect civilians (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

Western and Arab nations, international agencies and non-governmental groups stressed the urgent need for aid for Gaza civilians at a Paris conference on Thursday.

The gathering ended a few hours before the White House said Israel has agreed to put in place four-hour daily humanitarian pauses in Gaza, starting on Thursday.

The French presidency said the participants’ pledges reached over 1 billion euros (£870 million) in additional funding, stressing that the global amount still remained to be finalised.

French President Emmanuel Macron opened the conference with an appeal for Israel to protect civilians, saying that “all lives have equal worth” and urging pauses in the fighting to allow deliveries of aid.

“In the immediate term, we need to work on protecting civilians,” he said. “To do that, we need a humanitarian pause very quickly and we must work towards a ceasefire.”

The conference brought together officials from over 50 countries, the United Nations and humanitarian organisations as the Gaza Strip is being pounded by Israel in its war against Hamas, sparked by the militants’ deadly incursion into southern Israel on October 7.

Israeli authorities were not invited but have been informed of the talks, Mr Macron’s office said. There was no immediate comment from Israel on the conference.

More than 1.5 million people – or about 70% of Gaza’s population – have fled their homes, and an estimated 1.2 billion dollars (£820 million) is needed to respond to the crisis in Palestinian areas.

Mr Macron said that since the October 7 attack, Hamas “shouldered the responsibility for exposing Palestinians to terrible consequences,” and again defended Israel’s right to defend itself.

“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, Mr Macron 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 … always be pushed back to later.”

Several European countries, the United States and regional powers such as Jordan, Egypt and the Gulf Arab countries attended the conference, as did Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, who urged the international community to “put an end to the war”.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh speaks at the conference
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh speaks at the conference Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh speaks at the conference (Ludovic Marin, Pool via AP)

“How many Palestinians have to be killed for the war to end?” Mr Shtayyeh asked. “What Israel is doing is not a war against Hamas, it’s a war against the whole Palestinian people.”

Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry stressed that Israel had only allowed limited quantities of humanitarian aid through the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza 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,” Mr Shoukry 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” and said the plan is being discussed “with all parties concerned, including Israel”. The plan provides options for the short, medium and longer-term, with aid shipments possibly from the Cyprus port of Larnaca, 230 miles from Gaza, he said.

The initiative includes the collection, inspection and storage of humanitarian aid in Cyprus, its later transfer by ship possibly from Larnaca port and finally its offloading and distribution in Gaza.

French officials said they are also considering evacuating the wounded to hospital ships in the Mediterranean Sea off the Gaza coast. Paris sent a helicopter carrier, now off Cyprus, and is preparing another with medical capacities on board.

Italian foreign minister Antonio Tajani said his country sent a hospital ship that is en route to Cyprus before deploying as close as possible to the conflict zone.