French FM urges ‘immediate and durable’ truce, which Cohen casts as ‘gift for Hamas’

In joint briefing, Colonna says Paris believes testimonies of Oct. 7 rape victims; Israeli counterpart says France could play major role in preventing war with Hezbollah

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (R) meets with visiting French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna on December 17, 2023 (Shlomi Amsalem/Foreign Ministry)
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (R) meets with visiting French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna on December 17, 2023 (Shlomi Amsalem/Foreign Ministry)

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna on Sunday pressed for an “immediate and durable” truce in the Gaza war, adding that Paris is “deeply concerned” over the situation in the war-ravaged Palestinian territory.

“Too many civilians are being killed,” Colonna said during remarks in Tel Aviv with her Israeli counterpart, Eli Cohen, as Israel presses on with its offensive, launched in response to Hamas’s shock onslaught.

The war began when Hamas terrorists rampaged through southern communities on October 7, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians massacred amid brutal atrocities, and taking around 240 hostages to Gaza.

Vowing to destroy Hamas and to bring the hostages home, Israel launched an air and ground offensive in Gaza, which has been ruled by the terror group since 2007.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza has claimed that, since the start of the war, more than 18,800 people have been killed, mostly civilians. These figures cannot be independently verified and are believed to include some 7,000 Hamas terrorists, according to Israel, as well as civilians killed by misfired Palestinian rockets. Another estimated 1,000 terrorists were killed in Israel during the October 7 onslaught.

Colonna also stressed that the victims of Hamas’s onslaught must not be forgotten, including those subjected to sexual violence.

File: The area of ​​the Supernova festival where hundreds of Israelis were killed and kidnapped by Hamas terrorists in the October 7 terror onslaught, October 12, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

“Needless to say, France believes the word of these women victims,” she said, in reference to allegations of widespread sexual assaults during the Hamas attacks.

“France believes those who had to witness these rapes and mutilations, these desecrations,” she added.

Cohen said that calls for a ceasefire in the ongoing war with Hamas were “irresponsible” and a “gift for Hamas,” noting the previous long-term ceasefire was broken on October 7.

“It will not help the release of the hostages and it will take us back to the same reality we lived with on October 6,” he stated, adding that Hamas welcomed a non-binding UN General Assembly resolution last week for a ceasefire.

“If a terror organization celebrates your decision, it means you have made a wrong decision.”

“There can be a ceasefire immediately if Hamas releases all the hostages without condition, and will surrender,” he added, emphasizing that the whole world has an interest in the terror group’s elimination.

Israel will do ‘whatever it takes’ to defend northern border

Cohen also said that “France could play a positive and significant role to prevent a war in Lebanon.”

Israel has been engaged in regular cross-border exchanges of fire with terror groups in southern Lebanon, notably the powerful Iranian proxy Hezbollah, since October 7.

File: Smoke billows following Israeli strikes in the southern Lebanese village of Majdal Zoun near the border on December 15, 2023. (AFP)

“Israel has no intention to start another front on our northern border, but we will do whatever it takes to protect our citizens,” said Cohen.

So far, the skirmishes on the border have resulted in four civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of seven IDF soldiers.

On the Lebanese side, more than 120 have been killed, according to an AFP tally. The toll includes 107 Hezbollah members — some of whom were killed in Syria — 16 Palestinian terrorists, at least 14 civilians, and three journalists.

Israeli defense officials estimate that the Hezbollah death count is higher than that and that the terror group is covering up the true number of fatalities among its ranks.

Cohen said more than 50,000 Israelis have been displaced along the northern border with Lebanon.

“We have to ensure their security in order for them to be able to go back to their homes,” he said. “The only way to do it is by enforcing Hezbollah to withdraw north of the Litani River. There are two ways to do that: either by diplomacy or by force.”

File: A picture taken from the Israeli side of the border shows Lebanese security forces and Hezbollah supporters at the Israel-Lebanon border, October 7, 2023. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

Israel has long said the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group must be driven north of the Litani.

Jerusalem is hoping that the US, France or other foreign mediators will be able to broker the enforcement of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

The resolution called for the disarmament of all non-state armed forces in Lebanon as well as for the region between the Israel-Lebanon border and the Litani River to be free of all armed forces other than the Lebanese army and the UN’s peacekeeping mission UNIFIL.

Over the years, however, Hezbollah has repeatedly violated the resolution, amassing weapons and forces near the border with little enforcement by UNIFIL.

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