France's Macron warns Iran over escalation in Middle East

French president's adviser describes Tehran's celebration of Hamas' attacks as 'extremely indecent'

A fire burns underneath a damaged building in Gaza's Jabalia refugee camp after Israeli strikes on the blockaded enclave. Reuters
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France's President Emmanuel Macron has warned his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi to not escalate the conflict between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas as the former starts evacuating residents at its northern border.

In a phone call, Mr Macron warned Mr Raisi “against any escalation or extension of the conflict, particularly in Lebanon”, said the French president's office on Sunday.

Tehran has a duty to avoid stoking tension due to its strong relations with Hamas and Hezbollah, and “must do everything possible to avoid any regional conflagration”, Mr Macron said.

An Elysee adviser to Mr Macron separately described Iran's celebration of the attacks as “extremely indecent”.

“Iran can play a positive role which simply requires abstaining from unacceptable words, but also abstaining from backing Hamas. This would only worsen the situation,” the adviser said.

Hamas, which is based in Gaza, launched a series of attacks against Israel on October 7 that killed more than 1,400 Israelis.

Israel responded with an intense bombardment of Gaza and is preparing a ground invasion. More than 2,300 Palestinians have died over the past 10 days in blockaded enclave and the occupied West Bank.

Hezbollah operates both as a Lebanese political party represented in government and a regional militia.

The group last fought an all-out war against Israel in 2006 and controls the southern region of Lebanon that borders Israel.

Fears about the possibility of a second front opening have heightened as exchanges between Israel and Hezbollah and allied Palestinian factions intensified, killing more than 10 people in Lebanon and at least two in Israel since October 8.

Israel's Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said his country had no interest in waging war on its northern front and would seek to keep the situation along the border calm if Hezbollah restrained itself.

Mr Gallant warned Hezbollah that if it chose “the path of war,” it would pay a “very heavy” price.

However, Israel also signalled that it feared escalation on Monday as its military announced that it would start evacuating residents living within 2km of the Lebanese border.

France has directly told Lebanon’s militant group Hezbollah to not involve itself in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.

“The situation at the Lebanon-Israel border is very worrying,” Mr Macron's adviser told reporters over the weekend.

“It’s the reason why we are sending direct messages to Hezbollah to tell it to show the utmost restraint,” they said.

“We have also sent those messages to Lebanese authorities, to the Prime Minister [Najib Mikati] and to the Parliament speaker [Nabih Berri], as we do to all those who in Lebanon can exert influence in a political situation which is very complex,” they added.

“A second front in the region would cause the total collapse of Lebanon.”

"Extremely indecent" response

During the call with Mr Raisi, Mr Macron also said it was “necessary to condemn unequivocally the terrorist attacks perpetuated by Hamas in Israel”.

Tehran has denied involvement in the October 7 attacks.

France has "no specific information” about Iran's involvement in the attacks, said Mr Macron's adviser.

“But we know that [over] the long term, weapons from Iran have gone to Gaza, and that control of the sea is difficult,” they said.

“We have taken note of Iranian statements saying they are not involved in Hamas' operation. We, however, see that [Iran's] communication is all about the rightness of Hamas's cause, which we obviously reject.”

Tehran's mission to the UN told Reuters on Sunday that it would not wade into the conflict provided that “the Israeli apartheid does not dare to attack Iran, its interests and nationals. The resistance front can defend itself”.

Hezbollah and Hamas describe themselves as part of the “resistance front” against Israel.

Updated: October 16, 2023, 9:12 AM