PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron opened a Gaza aid conference on Thursday with an appeal for Israel to protect civilians as it fights Hamas, saying “all lives have equal worth” and that fighting terrorism “can never be carried out without rules.”
The gathering in Paris brought together officials from Western and Arab nations, the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations, with the aim of providing urgent aid to civilians in the Gaza Strip that is being pounded by Israel in its war against Hamas. Israeli authorities weren't participating in the talks, Macron's office said.
Macron reiterated calls for a humanitarian pause in Israel’s operations. He said that by attacking Israel on Oct. 7, Hamas “shouldered the responsibility for exposing Palestinians to terrible consequences,” and he again defended Israel’s right to defend itself.
But Macron also stressed that civilians must be protected. "It’s absolutely essential. It is non-negotiable,” he said.
“All lives have equal worth and there are no double standards for those of us with universal and humanist values,” he said.
“Fighting terrorism can never be carried out without rules. Israel knows that. The trap of terrorism is for all of us the same: giving in to violence and renouncing our values," he added.
More than 1.5 million people — or about 70% of Gaza's population — have fled their homes, and an estimated $1.2 billion is needed to respond to the crisis in Palestinian areas.
Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides was to present his plan for a humanitarian sea corridor to Gaza which he has said aims for a “sustained, secure high-volume flow of humanitarian assistance to Gaza in the immediate, medium and long term.” Ships would deliver the aid from Cyprus’ main port of Limassol, about 255 miles (410 kilometers) away.
French officials said they are also considering evacuating injured people to hospital ships in the Mediterranean off the Gaza coast. Paris sent a helicopter carrier off the Cyprus coast and is preparing another with medical capacities on board for that purpose.
Thursday's discussions will also include financial support and other ways to help Gaza's civilians. Over 50 nations were expected to attend, including several European countries, the United States and regional powers such as Jordan, Egypt and the Gulf countries, the French presidency said. Also attending is Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh.
The head of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, the U.N.’s top aid official and the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross are expected to provide details about urgent needs in the Gaza Strip.
France is expected to announce some additional funding. Since the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, Paris has provided an additional 20 million euros ($21.4 million) in humanitarian aid for Gaza through the U.N. and other partners and sent 54 tons of aid via three flights to Egypt.
On Tuesday, the German government said it will provide 20 million euros ($21 million) in new funding, in addition to releasing 71 million euros ($76 million) already earmarked for the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees following a review it launched after the Hamas attack.
European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are also attending the conference. The 27-nation bloc is the world’s top aid supplier to the Palestinians. It has sent almost 78 million euros ($83 million) this year.
Amnesty International welcomed the humanitarian conference and called on states “to push for an immediate cease-fire by all parties — as this is a vital precondition to ensure the people of Gaza receive any kind of sustained, effective, and impactful humanitarian aid.”
On Wednesday evening, human rights activists from several groups including Doctors Without Borders, Action Against Hunger and Doctors of the World gathered near the Eiffel Tower to call for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza.
“If the parties involved in this conference only discuss technical details such as the number of trucks to be driven through, it will amount to a cosmetic discussion that will delay the real issue, the cease-fire,” Michel Lacharité, head of emergency operations at Doctors without Borders France, said in a statement.
Associated Press writers John Leicester in Le Pecq, France, Geir Moulson in Berlin and Menelaos Hadjicostis in Nicosia, Cyprus, contributed to this report.
Sylvie Corbet, The Associated Press