France's Macron: Civilians in Gaza must be protected to avoid 'flare-up' in the region

Israel must privilege targeted attacks against Hamas, not a massive land invasion, says French President

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a press conference at an EU summit. AFP
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The death of civilians in the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas must stop to avoid a “flare-up” in the region, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday.

“This war against terrorists must be done in a way that distinguishes them from the start with the civilian population,” Mr Macron, who avoided directly blaming Israel, told reporters in Brussels.

“Otherwise, there is a risk of flare-up and confusion of minds and paradoxically, I think that it is counterproductive for Israel's security.

“If millions of people start thinking that their brothers and sisters are dying in the name of the fight against Hamas, they'll end up rallying their cause.

“That's very dangerous.”

The French President was speaking at the end of a two-day summit of the EU's 27 heads of state that was overshadowed by the war in the Middle East.

He called for a “humanitarian truce” to protect Palestinian civilians, particularly those in hospital.

“We must be clear-eyed. We are in a war situation which is set to last because the war against Hamas will not end quickly and we see a rise in tensions everywhere,” he said.

The EU has strongly supported Israel's right to defend itself after the Hamas attacks on October 7 killed more than 1,400 people.

But there has been growing unease over the death of more than 7,000 Palestinians in Israel's retaliatory bombardment of the Gaza strip.

The bloc's heads of state endorsed a joint statement on Friday calling for “humanitarian corridors and pauses for humanitarian needs”.

Mr Macron, who visited Israel earlier this week, pleaded for the country to avoid a massive land invasion of Gaza and to favour targeted attacks against Hamas.

The French President also acknowledged the difficulty for Israel to take aim at Hamas in the densely populated 360-square-kilometre enclave.

The Israeli military has accused the Palestinian militant group, labelled a terrorist organisation by the EU, of using the main hospital in Gaza as a shield for its tunnels and operational centres.

“When I tell them to re-establish electricity for hospitals, they tell me that Hamas is hooked up on the same hospital systems,” said Mr Macron.

“I understand the Israeli authorities' difficulties. I am very respectful when I say that time is needed to prepare and create conditions either for other electricity systems for these hospitals, or to evacuate these people.”

Mr Macron called for relaunching peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian leadership.

He described them as necessary to satisfy those who feel that their calls for a political solution to the conflict have been ignored.

“If you don't bring a response to the political question, these people start feeling sympathy – and we may regret it – for very violent actions,” said Mr Macron, in an allusion to the Hamas attacks which also enabled them to take more than 220 people hostage.

Finding a political solution while also helping Israel better attack Hamas fighters is “good for us” and “good for the security of Israel”, according to Mr Macron.

In Friday's conclusions, EU leaders also called for “the holding of an international peace conference soon” at the initiative of Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

Spain wants to bring the UN on board with the idea before figuring out details like a time and place for the summit, an EU official told The National.

Madrid hopes that all parties to the conflict will be represented, but the priority now is on responding to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, they said.

Speaking on Thursday ahead of the summit, Mr Sanchez said he personally supported calling for a ceasefire.

Yet there was no consensus on such language among member states, which are deeply divided on the Israel-Palestine question.

Some leaders like German chancellor Olaf Scholz reiterated their strong support for Israel's right to defend itself.

Unlike other European leaders, Mr Scholz went as far as to say that Israel would surely follow rules of international law due to its democratic nature.

His position contrasted with Mr Macron's. The French President said he had a “special thought” for civilians and employees of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees killed by Israeli shelling.

“We cannot pretend nothing is happening. These people have nothing to do with terrorism,” Mr Macron said.

Philippe Lazzarini, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, on Friday said that “aid operations are crumbling”. He confirmed that 57 of the agency's staff had been killed during the war.

Updated: October 27, 2023, 7:53 PM