France seeks to mobilise international community against Israeli-Palestinian violence
The international community must do everything possible to avert a new conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, France's foreign minister has said, after Palestinian militants fired hundreds more rockets and the Israeli army launched air strikes.
"The cycle of violence in Gaza, in Jerusalem, but also in the West Bank and several cities in Israel risks leading to a major escalation," Jean-Yves Le Drian told parliament.
"Everything must be done to avoid...a new conflict, which would be the fourth in the last 15 years," he said.
"It is absolutely essential that all actors -- without exception -- show the greatest restraint and refrain from any provocation and any incitement to hatred to put an end to violence whose victims are chiefly Palestinian and Israeli civilians."
❝I am deeply concerned by the ongoing escalation in the Middle East, caused by a lack of political horizon regarding a situation that has gone on for too long. I call on all stakeholders to show the highest restraint. #Israel #PalestinianTerritories❞https://t.co/IhbNbesvwP pic.twitter.com/jrn2mjhrmW— France Diplomacy🇫🇷 (@francediplo_EN) May 12, 2021
But in a sign of frustration after the US move to block a Security Council statement condemning the actions, France, along with three other Security Council members from Europe -- Norway, Estonia, and Ireland -- issued their own joint statement later Wednesday.
"We condemn the firing of rockets from Gaza against civilian populations in Israel by Hamas and other militant groups which is totally unacceptable and must stop immediately," the statement said.
"The large numbers of civilian casualties, including children, from Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, and of Israeli fatalities from rockets launched from Gaza, are both worrying and unacceptable.
"We call on Israel to cease settlement activities, demolitions and evictions, including in East Jerusalem," they wrote.
And Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour published a letter to the organization's top officials Wednesday in which he pleaded with them to "act with immediacy to demand that Israel cease its attacks against the Palestinian civilian population, including in the Gaza Strip."
Le Drian initiative
Gaza militants have launched more than 1,000 rockets since Monday, according to Israel's army, which has carried out hundreds of air strikes on Islamist groups in the Gaza Strip.
Le Drian said that as well as talking to Palestinian and Israeli counterparts, he would in the next hours be speaking to the Egyptian foreign minister, with Cairo seeking to calm the situation.
France welcomed the efforts of Egypt -- a traditional mediator and close ally of Paris -- and would seek to coordinate French efforts with those of Cairo to agree a ceasefire, Le Drian said.
He said France condemned in the "strongest terms" the firing of missiles from Gaza at Israeli cities including Tel Aviv.
The crisis started last Friday when weeks of tensions boiled over and Israeli riot police clashed with crowds of Palestinians at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque.
The unrest has been driven by anger over the looming evictions of Palestinian families from the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
Mixed areas targeted
Meanwhile, Wednesday saw a second day of violence in areas of Israel with a mixed population of Jews and Arabs. (Around 20% of Israeli citizens are Arabs.)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said on Wednesday he would be sending in military forces to help police restore order in cities where violence has broken out.
"Nothing can justify an Arab mob assaulting Jews, and nothing can justify a Jewish mob assaulting Arabs," he said in a video statement, as reported by the Times of Israel.
Netanyahu said the government would use all its power to protect Israel from enemies outside and rioters inside.
Israel said it had killed senior Hamas officials in Gaza and was also targeting missile launching sites, in what the Israeli Defence Force said were the biggest air strikes since the Hamas-IDF conflict in 2014.
Hamas confirmed the death of a senior commander and "other leaders".
Residents of Gaza were warned to evacuate the buildings before fighter jets attacked, say the IDF, but health officials in Gaza said there were still civilian deaths.
Five members of one family were killed in an air strike on Tuesday, including two young brothers, according to AFP news agency.
Meanwhile, US president Joe Biden spoke to the Israeli president on Wednesday, and stressed the need to restore “a sustainable calm”, he also told reporters that Israel had the right to defend itself,
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has sent an envoy to the region to meet officials on both sides of the conflict.
At least 67 people in Gaza and 7 people in Israel have died since the recent upsurge in hostilities.
Gaza is densely populated while in Israel there is a network of air raid shelters.
Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morningSubscribe