France’s President Emmanuel Macron will on Thursday host a conference on humanitarian aid for Gaza although Israel, which has been bombarding the territory since an October 7 attack by Hamas, will be absent.
All governments nevertheless have “an interest in the humanitarian situation improving in Gaza, including Israel”, a Macron aide told reporters on condition of anonymity ahead of the gathering.
Hamas militants stormed across the border from Gaza into Israel on October 7, killing more than 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and taking more than 240 hostages, Israeli officials say.
According to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, the retaliatory Israeli military campaign has killed more than 10,500 people, many of them children.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said there will be no fuel delivered to Gaza and no ceasefire with Hamas unless the hostages are freed.
Macron spoke to Netanyahu on Tuesday and the pair will talk again once Thursday’s aid conference is over, the Elysee Palace said.
Negotiations are underway for the release of a dozen hostages held by Hamas, including six Americans, in return for a three-day ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, a source close to Hamas told AFP Wednesday.
Another source said Qatar was mediating negotiations in coordination with the US to free “10-15 hostages in exchange for a one- to two-day ceasefire”.
Qatar, like Egypt, has been playing a key role in attempts to bring more aid into the Gaza Strip.
Macron spoke to Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani on Tuesday, his office said.
– Under siege –
Thursday’s aid conference has been put together in a hurry on the sidelines of the annual Paris Peace Forum on November 10-11.
“The idea is to go around all the major donors and speed up aid to Gaza,” France’s foreign ministry said last week, saying there would be sections on donations of goods such as food, fuel and medical supplies, financial support and humanitarian access.
Few Arab nations are expected to send delegates, although the Palestinian Authority will send its prime minister and Egypt a ministerial delegation.
The prime ministers of Greece, Ireland and Luxembourg will attend, along with EU chiefs Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen.
No joint declaration is planned at the end of the conference.
France “is insisting on a strictly pragmatic tone, operational, humanitarian, they don’t want this conference to turn into a platform for condemning Israel,” a European diplomatic source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
– ‘Pause’ or ceasefire? –
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.
G7 foreign ministers meeting in Japan on Wednesday called for “humanitarian pauses and corridors” to protect civilians, but stopped short of calling for a ceasefire.
UN chief Antonio Guterres has said that “the unfolding catastrophe makes the need for a humanitarian ceasefire more urgent with every passing hour”.
Meanwhile 13 major aid groups including Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Oxfam and the Norwegian Refugee Council on Wednesday urged leaders attending the conference to push for a halt to fighting.
Government chiefs should “do everything in their power to obtain an immediate ceasefire” and stepped-up access for aid, they said.
Israel has for now remained firm in keeping up its offensive, with a stated objective of destroying Hamas — which has governed Gaza since 2007.
The UN estimates that $1.2 billion in aid will be needed for the populations of Gaza and the West Bank from now until the end of the year.