France calls for 'immediate truce' in Gaza, as Israel suspends minister over 'nuclear option'

NOV 5, 2023 LISTEN

France's Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna has called for an "immediate" humanitarian pause in the Israel-Hamas war as casualties climb in the besieged Gaza Strip. This comes as Israel has suspended a minister who said he was open to a nuclear strike on the enclave. 

Speaking to reporters during a visit to Qatar this Sunday, Colonna said "An immediate, durable and observed humanitarian truce is absolutely necessary and must be able to lead to a ceasefire."

France's top diplomat, who met with her Qatari counterpart in Doha, added that Paris was working to have a resolution on a truce adopted by the UN Security Council.

Her comments follow calls for a humanitarian "pause" by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is back for a second tour of the Middle East since the 7 October attacks by the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Such pauses were a key focus of Blinken's talks in Israel on Friday, but the proposal drew short shrift from hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu categorically refused to agree to a "temporary truce" with Hamas until the Islamist group releases more than 240 Israeli and foreign hostages it abducted during its 7 October attacks.

Since the Hamas attack, which Israeli officials say killed 1,400 people – mostly civilians – Israel has relentlessly bombarded the besieged Gaza Strip, levelling entire city blocks.

The health ministry in Gaza, the narrow territory under Hamas control since 2007, says more than 9,480 people, mostly women and children, have been killed in Israeli strikes and the intensifying ground campaign.

Israel suspends 'nuclear option' minister

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Netanyahu has suspended a junior member of his cabinet who appeared to voice openness to the idea of Israel carrying out a nuclear strike on Gaza.

Netanyahu's office said in a statement Sunday that the minister concerned – Heritage Minister Amihai Eliyahu from a far-right party in the coalition government – had been suspended from cabinet meetings "until further notice."

When asked in a radio interview about a hypothetical nuclear option, Eliyahu replied: "That's one way."

His remark made headlines in Arab media and scandalised mainstream Israeli broadcasters.

"Eliyahu's statements are not based in reality. Israel and the IDF [military] are operating in accordance with the highest standards of international law to avoid harming innocents. We will continue to do so until our victory," Netanyahu's office said.

In a social media post, Eliyahu said: "It is clear to anyone who is sensible that the nuclear remark was metaphorical."

But he added: "A strong and disproportionate response to terrorism is definitely required, which will clarify to the Nazis and their supporters that terrorism is not worthwhile."

A spokesperson for Hamas, that advocates for Israel's destruction, said Eliyahu represented the "unprecedented criminal Israeli terrorism [that] constitutes a danger to the entire region and the world."