France calls for end to settler violence in occupied West Bank

French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne also opposes any population transfer in Palestinian territories

France's Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne has expressed strong condemnation for the significant increase in incidents of Israeli settler violence in the occupied West Bank. Reuters
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France’s Foreign Minister has condemned a sharp rise in Israeli settler violence in the occupied West Bank.

Stephane Sejourne said the aggression “must stop” and that “it is of utmost importance to refrain from any action, decision or statement that might spark violence” in the West Bank.

Speaking in Jerusalem after a meeting with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, Mr Sejourne described Israel as “a friend” but said France will be making arguments on the Gaza war “that our Israeli partners may have a hard time hearing”.

Mr Sejourne’s visit came as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Saudi Arabia on his fifth visit to the Middle East since the Israel-Gaza war broke out in October.

Mr Blinken will also visit Egypt, Qatar, Israel and the West Bank in a bid to seal an elusive second truce between Israel and Hamas as fighting in Gaza continues.

Western countries are growing increasingly concerned that settler violence, harsh Israeli economic controls and often deadly raids could tip the West Bank into further chaos and open another front in the Gaza war, which has already sparked fears of a wider regional conflict.

There can in no circumstance be any transfer of Palestinians, neither from Gaza nor from the West Bank
Stephane Sejourne, French Foreign Minister

A number of Palestinian communities have already been driven from the land by settler violence, mostly during the immediate weeks following the deadly October 7 attacks by Hamas in Israel that caused the war.

In January, The National reported that hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property donated by Israeli allies to NGOs in the West Bank has been torched by settlers.

US President Joe Biden approved sanctions last week on four Israeli settlers who are accused of violence against Palestinians.

The move was criticised by some in the Israeli government, the most right-wing in the country’s history, even though the US is Israel’s most crucial ally.

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who is a high-profile settler, said: “It is a shame that the Biden administration is co-operating with an anti-Semitic campaign during a time when settlers are paying a heavy price in blood with their most precious sons in Gaza.”

Mr Sejourne also addressed growing calls from the Israeli far right, including government ministers, that Israel should depopulate Palestinian areas and resettle them with Israelis.

“There can in no circumstance be any transfer of Palestinians, neither from Gaza nor from the West Bank,” he said.

Mr Netanyahu thanked Mr Sejourne, saying they discussed “medical humanitarian aid and of course co-operation between us on the topic of Lebanon”.

France, which has close historical and diplomatic ties to Lebanon, is engaged in frantic talks to prevent a war between Israel and Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, a Hamas ally.

Both sides already trade regular fire, although the situation could rapidly deteriorate with both parties possessing vast arsenals and thousands of troops stationed on each other’s borders.

Tensions continue to flare as Mr Netanyahu comes under increasing pressure to secure the northern part of his country and make safe the return of tens of thousands of Israelis who were evacuated from the region after October 7.

Updated: February 06, 2024, 6:44 AM