Statement by Ms. Catherine Colonna, Minister for Europe, and Foreign Affairs, at the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East

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October 24 2023

Mr. President,

I would like to thank the Secretary-General and his Personal Representative and UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, as well as his Deputy, for having briefed the Council. I welcome the Secretary-General’s personal commitment to this situation which is extremely worrying, and, let’s face it, dangerous. Very worrying from a humanitarian point of view, and dangerous because the region is facing a conflagration.

Our Council must now act and shoulder its responsibilities. It is its duty, and it is our duty.

It is our duty to condemn unambiguously the terrorist attack by Hamas and other terrorist groups against Israel, a massive, inhuman and abominable attack, an attack against civilians murdered in cold blood, tortured and raped. No one can challenge the reality that, on October 7, Hamas, a terrorist group, launched a terrorist offensive against a United Nations member state, Israel. This terrorism has also struck France: thirty of our people have lost their lives, and nine others are missing or being held hostage.

I reiterate our demand that all hostages be released immediately without conditions. Children, including French children, are probably being held hostage in Gaza today. No one on this Council should accept this: all hostages must be released.

In the face of this attack, I would like to reiterate France’s solidarity with Israel and its constant support for its security. Israel has the right to security. Israel has the right to defend itself and protect its people, so that such an attack can never happen again. The President of the Republic reiterated this, again, today in Israel. I was there nine days ago and saw the pain and suffering of the Israeli people.

Israel has the right to defend itself and the duty to do so in compliance with international law, in particular international humanitarian law, and therefore to protect civilians.

We all know, too, that Hamas in no way represents the Palestinians. In the Gaza Strip, where Hamas dominates through terror and holds the population hostage, it brings only the suffering of violent fighting and a terrible humanitarian crisis.

In the face of this humanitarian crisis, our duty – including that of Israel – is to guarantee the ongoing provision to civilians, including women and children in Gaza, of basic goods: water, food, medicine and fuel. Civilian lives must be preserved. Any loss of civilian life is a tragedy.

And to do this, we must guarantee safe, swift, unhindered and sustainable humanitarian access to the Gaza Strip; we must ensure the respect for international humanitarian law and its principles, which I reiterate: humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. Finally, we must call for a humanitarian truce, which could eventually lead to a ceasefire. I reiterated this last Saturday in Cairo at the Peace Summit organized by Egypt, whose efforts I welcome here, and the Prime Minister reiterated it yesterday in the French Parliament.

Since Saturday, several humanitarian convoys have been able to cross the Rafah crossing point. They must continue to enter, in greater numbers. The UN Secretary-General has made it clear: the entry of these trucks is a matter of life and death for the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip. Their numbers must be increased. We must do more, because the needs are enormous. Every civilian counts, every minute counts.

France is committed to tackling this humanitarian emergency. Like the European Union, it has increased its humanitarian assistance. Since October 7, it has provided an additional 20 million euros in humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza, through UN agencies, the ICRC and humanitarian NGOs. I would like to commend them all, as well as the determined action of the Secretary-General. France is also chartering a special flight with 50 tonnes of emergency humanitarian aid for the Palestinians, to assist Egypt’s efforts, which we encourage. By 2023, our total aid to the Palestinians will reach more than 110 million euros.

We also have a duty to prevent a conflagration throughout the region.

France is committed to preventing the conflict from spreading. Certain players must refrain from trying to take advantage of the current situation. We say this to them in the clearest terms. We warn them against any attempt to interfere in the conflict, which would create a downward spiral. A conflagration would benefit no one, neither in the region nor beyond.

Mr. President,

The seriousness of the situation reminds us and urges it: among our duties, we have the imperative duty to retrace the path of peace. We must act to recreate the conditions conducive to a lasting political solution, capable of meeting the legitimate aspirations of Palestinians and Israelis to live in peace, not face to face, but alongside each other. The conditions for this lasting peace are well known: they are essential guarantees for Israel’s security and a state for the Palestinians. The only viable solution is a two-state solution. This is what France has always defended and will continue to defend. I reiterated this in Cairo on Saturday. President Macron is repeating it today to the Israelis, Palestinians and regional partners.

We must continue to support the Palestinian Authority, and even strengthen it, with a view to decisively relaunching the political process with all parties. The President of the Republic has therefore decided to visit Ramallah today, after his meetings in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. He has just arrived and is meeting President Abbas as we speak.

We need to do all we can, in order to mobilize in order to find political prospects. This Council must be able to fully exercise its responsibility here. It is high time that it unambiguously condemns Hamas’s terrorist attack on Israel, calls for respect for international law, including humanitarian law, and calls for the sustained delivery of aid to the people of Gaza.

This is why France voted in favor of the draft resolution presented by Brazil, which I thank for its commitment and efforts, and why it will continue to support any initiative by the Council that is fair and based on our common principles. This Council must act, now.

Mr. President,

The United Nations Charter came into force 78 years ago today. We are here to serve it and to serve peace. In these difficult days, France calls everyone to their responsibilities before the Charter and before humankind.

Thank you very much.

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