France's new foreign minister visits Israel, calls for cease-fire and hostage release

France’s new foreign minister on Monday used his first visit to Israel to urge the government to allow an “immediate cease-fire” and a “massive influx” of humanitarian aid in Gaza.

Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné, who became France’s top diplomat last month, met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem during his trip.

Speaking later at a news conference, Séjourné said it was France’s role as a “friend” to tell Israeli leaders some truths they “may have difficulties hearing.”

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“For four months now, the people of Gaza have been living under bombs and an almost full siege. They are being deprived of the minimum aid they need to treat their wounds, protect against epidemics and feed themselves,” he said.

Séjourné stressed that France “strongly supported Israel’s right to defend itself” after the Hamas-orchestrated attack in southern Israel that triggered the war in Gaza. At the same time, he called the death and destruction in the Palestinian territory a tragedy.

“The tragedy in Gaza must end,” he said. “We call for international humanitarian law to be respected by all and for an immediate and lasting cease-fire and a massive influx of humanitarian aid.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and France's Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, is seen with France’s Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne, right, before their meeting in Jerusalem on Feb. 5, 2024. (Gil Cohen-Magen/Pool via AP)

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Saudi Arabia on Monday for a Mideast trip that also will take him to Egypt, Qatar, Israel and the West Bank this week. Blinken hopes to make progress on a potential cease-fire deal.

Séjourné also called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of all the remaining hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. Three French nationals are believed to be among them, he said.

A French top official, speaking about sensitive information on the condition of anonymity, said Monday that France was working with Qatar and other partners in the region to get proof that medicines shipped to Gaza for dozens of hostages have been delivered.

France and Qatar last month mediated the first agreement between Israel and the militant group since a weeklong cease-fire in November. The deal authorized supplying medicines for both hostages and for use by Palestinian civilians.

As he greeted the visiting foreign minister, Netanyahu praised France’s “stalwart and consistent support from Day 1” and said they planned to discuss issues related to Lebanon, from where the militant group Hezbollah has fired at targets in northern Israel during the Israel-Hamas war.

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Lebanon is a former French protectorate. Séjourné said France is committed to preventing any escalation of regional hostilities.

The minister’s first trip to the Middle East since his appointment started with stops in Egypt on Saturday and Jordan on Sunday.

Séjourné was scheduled to meet later Monday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah and to travel to Lebanon on Tuesday.

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