France condemns killing of Gaza NGO workers as US pressed to toughen stance with Israel

France REUTERS - Benoit Tessier
APR 3, 2024 LISTEN
REUTERS - Benoit Tessier

France's Foreign Minister Sébastien Séjourné has held talks with his US counterpart Antony Blinken in Paris after a Washington-based NGO was struck by an Israeli airstrike in central Gaza, adding pressure on the United States to toughen its stance in the war between Israel and Hamas.

Blinken arrived in the French capital on Tuesday before heading to Brussels for a NATO ministerial meeting this Wednesday.

During his visit, Blinken met with French Defence Minister Sébastien Lecornu, before meeting with Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné and President Emmanuel Macron.

While Ukraine was high on the agenda, the killing of seven aid workers from the World Central Kitchen NGO by an Israeli strike in Gaza took centre stage.

Speaking at a press conference following talks with Blinken, Séjourné "strongly condemned" the Israeli airstrike on the aid workers in Gaza, adding: "The protection of humanitarian personnel is a moral and legal imperative that everyone must adhere to".

'Thorough and impartial investigation'

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Blinken said Washington has urged Israel to carry out a swift, thorough and impartial investigation into the airstrike against people working for the World Central Kitchen charity.

"We've spoken directly to the Israeli government about this particular incident. We've urged a swift, a thorough and impartial investigation," Blinken told reporters in Paris, adding that humanitarian workers have to be protected.

"These people are heroes, they run into the fire, not away from it," he said of the NGO workers killed in the strike. "We shouldn't have a situation where people who are simply trying to help their fellow human beings are themselves at grave risk."

Blinken stopped short of directly condemning the attack, unlike his French counterpart  Séjourné, who said "nothing can justify such a tragedy".

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the airstrike was unintended and "tragic", and the Israeli military have pledged an independent inquiry.

'No comment' on Damascus strike

On the topic of an alleged Israeli airstrike on the Iranian embassy compound in Syria earlier this week, Séjourné declined to comment.

Iran has blamed Israel for the attack, while Israel has not openly declared responsibility for it.

The French foreign minister said the danger of an escalation of regional violence in the Middle East was the responsibility of certain actors in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

Suspected Israeli warplanes bombed Iran's embassy in Damascus on Monday in a strike that Iran said killed seven of its military advisers, including three senior commanders.