French President Emmanuel Macron said on a solidarity visit to Israel Tuesday that saving hostages held by Hamas in Gaza must be the “first objective” of the military campaign but stressed the need to stop the conflict spreading.
Macron’s visit added to the chorus of Western support for Israel’s riposte to the Palestinian militant group after the deadly October 7 attacks. But he was to call for a “humanitarian truce”, his office said, amid international concern over the civilian toll in Gaza.
“The first objective we should have today is the release of all hostages, without any distinction, because this is an awful crime to play with these lives of children, adults, old people, civilians and soldiers,” Macron said after meeting Israeli President Isaac Herzog in Jerusalem.
Thirty French people were killed in the Hamas attacks which Israel said left 1,400 dead. Macron said nine French people are missing, at least one has been confirmed to be among more than 220 people taken hostage by Hamas gunmen.
France and Israel are “linked by grief” Macron said after earlier meeting the families of some of the French people killed or taken hostage in the worst attacks suffered by Israel.
He expressed outrage after a video of one French hostage, Mia Schem, was broadcast by Hamas last week. “I want you to be sure that you’re not left alone in this war against terrorism,” Macron told Herzog, stressing attacks staged in France in recent years.
“I think this is our duty to fight against these terrorist groups, without any confusion, without I would say enlarging this conflict.” He was expected to give the same message in talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
With the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group daily trading artillery fire with the army across the Lebanon-Israel border, Western governments are concerned the conflict could spread.
US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also raised that concern during visits to Israel over the past week. Macron was expected to call for the “preservation” of Gaza’s civilian population in talks with Netanyahu, as Israel pursues its relentless bombardment to prepare a widely anticipated ground invasion.
More than 5,000 people, including more than 1,800 children, have died in Israel’s bombardment of Gaza since October 7, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.