PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron opened a Gaza aid conference on Thursday with an appeal for Israel to protect civilians as it fights the Hamas terror group, 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.
War erupted on October 7 when Hamas attacked Israel, killing over 1,400 people, most of them civilians. Israel has since launched a military campaign aimed at destroying Hamas and removing it from control over the Palestinian enclave where it has been the de facto regime since 2007.
Israeli authorities weren’t participating in the talks, Macron’s office said.
Macron reiterated calls for a humanitarian pause in Israel’s operations. He said that by attacking Israel on October 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 nonnegotiable,” 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.
“In the immediate term, we need to work on protecting civilians. To do that, we need a humanitarian pause very quickly and we must work towards a ceasefire,” Macron told delegates in Paris.
Israel has urged civilians to evacuate northern Gaza where it is focusing its strikes and an ongoing land incursion. More than 1.5 million people — or about 70 percent of Gaza’s population — have fled their homes, and an estimated $1.2 billion is needed to respond to the crisis in Palestinian areas.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said there will be no fuel delivered to Gaza and no ceasefire with Hamas unless the hostages are freed. The IDF has said there is no lack of food, water, or other humanitarian supplies in Gaza.
Israel has barred the entry of fuel into Gaza, arguing that Hamas has stockpiled sufficient fuel reserves for basic humanitarian needs and that providing more would help the terror group continue to power its vast tunnel network, which it is using in its operations against IDF troops.
Macron spoke to Netanyahu on Tuesday and the pair will talk again once Thursday’s aid conference is over, the Elysee Palace said.
Moshe Tetro, an Israeli military officer handling civil affairs in Gaza, said on Thursday that although “the civil situation in the Gaza Strip is not an easy one,” the state sees “no humanitarian crisis.”
International concern over the fate of Gaza’s civilians, most of whom cannot flee the sealed-off territory, has strengthened calls for humanitarian “pauses” or a full ceasefire.
Both European and US leaders are “having difficulty convincing (Israel) that there should be humanitarian pauses as soon as possible,” European Council head Michel told broadcaster France 2 early on Thursday.
“Israel has the right to defend itself, and this must be in line with the rules of international law,” he added.
Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides was to present his plan for a humanitarian sea corridor to Gaza which he has said aims for a “sustained, secure high-volume flow of humanitarian assistance to Gaza in the immediate, medium and long term.” Ships would deliver the aid from Cyprus’s 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 will also include financial support and other ways to help Gaza’s civilians. Over 50 nations were expected to attend, including several European countries, the United States and regional powers such as Jordan, Egypt and the Gulf countries, the French presidency said. Also attending is Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh.
The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, the UN’s top aid official and the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross are expected to provide details about urgent needs in the Gaza Strip.
France is expected to announce some additional funding. Since the Hamas attack on October 7, Paris has provided an additional 20 million euros ($21.4 million) in humanitarian aid for Gaza through the UN and other partners and sent 54 tons of aid via three flights to Egypt.
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. It has sent almost 78 million euros ($83 million) this year.
Amnesty International welcomed the humanitarian conference and called on states “to push for an immediate ceasefire by all parties — as this is a vital precondition to ensure the people of Gaza receive any kind of sustained, effective, and impactful humanitarian aid.”
On Wednesday evening, human rights activists from several groups including Doctors Without Borders, Action Against Hunger and Doctors of the World gathered near the Eiffel Tower to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.
“If the parties involved in this conference only discuss technical details such as the number of trucks to be driven through, it will amount to a cosmetic discussion that will delay the real issue, the ceasefire,” Michel Lacharité, head of emergency operations at Doctors without Borders France, said in a statement.
On October 7, Hamas led over 3,000 terrorists who burst through the Gaza Strip border and rampaged murderously through southern Israel regions. The gunmen overran communities, slaughtering over 1,400 people, the vast majority of them civilians, in their homes and at an outdoor music festival. Hundreds of cases of brutality and abuse were recorded.
Aside from those killed, at least 240 people, including babies, were abducted and dragged to Gaza as captives.
Gaza health authorities, controlled by Hamas, say that more than 10,000 Palestinians have been killed in the fighting, but the figures issued by the terror group cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include its own operatives as well as Palestinians killed by the hundreds of rockets fired by terror groups that have fallen short inside the Strip. The terror group has been accused of artificially inflating the death toll.