French top diplomat calls for 'immediate and durable' Gaza truce

French top diplomat calls for 'immediate and durable' Gaza truce
France's foreign minister calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, as Israel continues to attack the coastal enclave
3 min read
18 December, 2023
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki (R) receives the visiting French Foreign minister Catherine Colonna at his headquarters in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank [Getty]

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna on Sunday pressed for an "immediate and durable" truce in the Gaza war, saying "too many civilians are being killed" in the Palestinian territory.

Israel has come under growing international pressure for a ceasefire in Gaza, where its war on Gaza has killed at least 18,800 people, mostly women and children, according to the Palestinian health authorities.

Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attacks in southern Israel in which 1,139 people were killed and about 250 taken hostage, according to Israeli figures.

Meeting her Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen in Tel Aviv, before holding talks with Palestinian officials in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, Colonna stressed that the victims of Hamas's suspected attacks must not be forgotten, including those subjected to sexual violence.

"Needless to say, France believes the word of these women victims... those who had to witness these rapes and mutilations, these desecrations," she said in Tel Aviv.

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She also addressed concerns that the war could spread.

There have been regular cross-border exchanges of fire between Israel and Lebanon's powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah group.

Cohen said Israel "has no intention to start another front on our northern border" and that France could play a "positive and significant role" in preventing an all-out war.

But he warned that ensuring the security of Israelis near the border meant pushing Hezbollah "north of the Litani River".

"There are two ways to do that: either by diplomacy or by force," Cohen said.

Colonna, who is due to visit Lebanon on Monday, called on all parties to "de-escalate" along the border.

"If things were to spiral out of control, I don't think anyone would benefit, and I say this to Israel too," she said.

Settler violence 

Colonna also said France and its allies were weighing a response to attacks on ships in the Red Sea.

Major shipping firms have suspended passage following attacks by Huthi rebels in Yemen aimed at pressuring Israel over the Gaza war.

"These attacks cannot go unanswered, and we are studying several solutions," including a "defensive role to prevent this from happening again", the minister said.

She later met separately with the families of French hostages still held in Gaza, and with senior Palestinian officials at the headquarters in Ramallah of the Palestinian Authority which has partial administrative control in the occupied West Bank.

Israel-Gaza war stats

In a rural community near the West Bank city, the French foreign minister condemned violence in the West Bank.

More than 290 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces or settlers since October 7, health officials in the territory say.

She said violent acts by settlers "are grave actions" that could "destabilise" the West Bank and "undermine" any chance of a two-state solution.

Colonna also met Palestinian olive growers who told her they had been threatened and chased from their land by settlers and were unable to harvest olives this year.

For Palestinians, the hardy olive trees, which thrives in tough conditions and can live for hundreds of years, is a symbol of their rootedness in the territory, where an estimated 10 million trees grow.