French foreign minister in Israel calls for ‘immediate and durable’ Gaza truce

Israel war has now killed 18,800 people, mostly women and children, according to the territory’s Hamas government

French foreign minister Catherine Colonna with EU High Representative Josep Borrell
French foreign minister Catherine Colonna with EU High Representative Josep Borrell

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

“Too many civilians are being killed,” Colonna said during remarks in Tel Aviv with her Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen as Israel pushed on with its offensive after the October 7 attacks, sending tensions spiralling across the region.

Israel has come under growing international pressure for a ceasefire in Gaza, where its war against Hamas militants has killed at least 18,800 people, mostly women and children, according to the territory’s Hamas government.

The offensive comes in response to Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attacks in southern Israel in which about 1,140 people were killed, mostly civilians, and about 250 taken hostage, according to the latest Israeli figures.

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

“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 meanwhile said “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 armed groups in southern Lebanon, notably the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah group. “Israel has no intention to start another front on our northern border, but we will do what whatever it takes to protect our citizens,” said Cohen.

More than 130 people have been killed on the Lebanese side of the frontier since early October. Most of those killed were Hezbollah fighters but they also included a Lebanese soldier and 17 civilians, three of them journalists.

On the Israeli side, seven soldiers and four civilians have been killed, authorities there have said.

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.”

Paris on Saturday condemned an Israeli strike in Gaza that killed a French foreign ministry employee, demanding that “light be shed” on the circumstances.

Colonna was also due to meet the families of French hostages still held in Gaza, according to a foreign ministry statement.

The truce she proposed should lead to a lasting ceasefire with the aim of releasing all hostages and delivering aid to Gaza, it said. The French top diplomat will also meet her Palestinian counterpart Riyad al-Maliki in the occupied West Bank.

Shortly before her arrival in Israel, Colonna condemned increasing attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians in the West Bank. “Since October 7, unfortunately, some settlers, driven by their ideological blindness... have committed crimes” against Palestinians, she said, adding that “these settlers must be punished”.

More than 290 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces or settlers in the West Bank since the war in Gaza erupted on October 7, health officials say.