France repeats 'strong opposition' to any Israeli gound offensive in Rafah

Israel AP - Hatem Ali
AP - Hatem Ali

The French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs has repeated that it is firmly opposed to any Israeli plans to launch a military ground offensive against the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. 

A statement from the ministry also warned that the forced displacement of a civilian population constitutes a war crime, according to international law.

"France reiterates its strong opposition to an Israeli offensive on Rafah, where over 1.3 million people have taken refuge at a time of great distress," the statement reads.

"The Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs repeated this message during his trip to Israel last week and the President of France shared the same statement with the Israeli Prime Minister yesterday.

The statement concludes: "Our position is clear: the hostages must be freed immediately and a lasting ceasefire must enable the civilian population to receive the protection that they need."

The French government also maintained its position that the Palestinian militant group Hamas immediately release all hostages, and that parties to the conflict agree to a permanent ceasefire to protect the civilian population.

Rafah evacuation
Israel's military began evacuating Rafah on Monday and instructed the inhabitants of the eastern part of the city move to the al-Mawasi camp on the Mediterranean.

The French embassy in Israel issued the statement after the French president, Emmanuel Macron spoke with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, on the phone on Sunday.

The president explained during the call that France's top priority is the release of all the captives as he encouraged Netanyahu to pursue a ceasefire.

Macron reiterated his opposition to the planned Israeli offensive on Rafah and the urgent need to ensure the entry of humanitarian aid through all access points to the Gaza Strip, the embassy added. 

'War and famine'
The High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell echoed the French president's statement.

"Israel's evacuation orders to civilians in Rafah portend the worst: more war and famine," he wrote on social media.

"It is unacceptable. Israel must renounce to a ground offensive and implement UNSCR 2728. The EU, with the International Community, can and must act to prevent such scenario."

The enclave is on the brink of famine, the UN has said.

"With more than 1 million people crammed into Rafah, the consequences of a military offensive would be catastrophic," French NGO Doctors without Borders (MSF) also warned. "People in Gaza need an immediate and sustained ceasefire".

Call for a ceasefire

The Palestinian militant group Hamas on Monday agreed to a Gaza ceasefire proposal from mediators, but Israel said the terms did not meet its demands and pressed ahead with strikes in Rafah while planning to continue negotiations on a deal.

Netanyahu's office said later that the truce proposal fell short of Israel's demands, but said Israel would send a delegation to meet with negotiators to try to reach an agreement.

Qatar's foreign ministry said its delegation is heading to Cairo on Tuesday to resume indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas.

More than 34,600 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict, according to Gaza health officials.

The war began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on 7 October, killing about 1,100 people and abducting 252 others, of whom 133 are believed to remain in captivity in Gaza, according to Israeli tallies.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres repeated his call for both sides "to go the extra mile needed to make an agreement come true and stop the present suffering."

 (with newswires)