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French president Emmanuel Macron said the release of all hostages seized by Hamas should be the “first objective” of Israel and its allies as western capitals urged more time for negotiations and the entry of more aid into Gaza before an expected ground offensive.
On a visit intended as an expression of solidarity with Israel following Hamas’s deadly attacks on October 7, Macron told Israeli President Isaac Herzog in Jerusalem on Tuesday: “I share your point of view that the first objective we should have today is the release of all hostages without distinction.”
EU leaders are later this week expected to endorse a call for a “humanitarian pause” in hostilities to let more water, food and medicine into Gaza and to give more time for negotiations mediated by Qatar to secure the release of hostages.
Hamas on Monday night released two more hostages of the more than 200 it abducted from southern Israel in its assault earlier this month, citing “compelling humanitarian reasons”.
Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, one of two elderly women freed by the militant group, recounted her ordeal on Tuesday, saying: “We went through hell.”
Lifshitz also criticised the Netanyahu administration and the army, complaining that warnings were missed ahead of the attack. “We were the scapegoat of the government,” she said.
UN officials have warned that a catastrophic humanitarian disaster is unfolding in Gaza as Israel bombards the strip and cuts off its supplies of water, fuel and power. Only three small consignments of aid have crossed the border into Gaza from Egypt since Israeli forces besieged the strip.
Qatar’s ruler warned the international community on Tuesday not to give Israel an “unconditional greenlight” in its war with Hamas, warning that the conflict “threatens the security of the region and the world”.
Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani said he could not “stay tight-lipped about the unprecedented barbaric bombing of the civilians in Gaza Strip”.
In his meeting with Herzog, Macron said it was “our duty to fight against these terrorist groups without any confusion and without enlarging the conflict”.
But he appeared to advise Israel against launching a full-scale ground invasion of Gaza to eradicate Hamas, saying: “Organising targeted operations is a necessity.”
Speaking later alongside Netanyahu, the French leader called for an international coalition against Hamas like the one that battled Isis in Syria. International humanitarian war had to be respected, he said. “The fight must be without mercy but not without rules.”
Netanyahu said that for Israel Hamas in Gaza was equivalent to “Isis in the suburbs of Paris. We cannot live like that.”
In a press conference on Tuesday, Lifschitz described her abduction by Hamas, saying she was carried to Gaza on a motorbike. Once inside the strip, she said, she was led into a tunnel network she described as a “spiderweb”, where she was kept with other hostages.
After being initially beaten, she said she was treated well by her captives and given food and medicine.
The husbands of Lifshitz and the other newly released hostage were also kidnapped from the Nir Oz kibbutz and remain in Hamas’s hands. Talks to release more hostages stalled over Hamas demands that fuel be allowed in to Gaza, a senior Israeli official said.
The Israel Defense Forces bombed an additional 400 targets overnight, describing them as staging grounds for rocket attacks and a tunnel that led to the Mediterranean Sea.
At least 5,087 people have killed in Gaza, local health authorities said, since Israel started its bombardment of the strip in retaliation for the Hamas attack that killed at least 1,400 civilians and soldiers, according to Israeli authorities.
Israeli officials have indicated that its looming ground offensive was on schedule, with the chief of the general staff saying it was using the time to prepare soldiers and shape its intended operations within Gaza.
“We are well prepared for the ground operations in the south,” said Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi. “There are tactical, operative, strategic considerations that have provided additional time, and troops who have more time are better prepared, and that is what we are doing now.”
But the success of back-channel hostage negotiations run by Qatar, aided by Egypt and facilitated by the Red Cross, has complicated Israel’s hope for a large, swift ground operation aimed at rooting out Hamas’s ground infrastructure.
The Israeli official briefed on the hostage release said it was unconditional, and that Hamas’s demands for fuel — to be delivered during a brief ceasefire — were rejected by the “political echelon”.
Israel is blocking the entry of aid at the scale necessary for alleviating Gaza’s humanitarian crisis until a mechanism for inspections can be put into place that guarantees that no weapons or fuel enter the enclave from Egypt, said three senior UN officials. Israel also wants international monitors to ensure the aid is kept out of Hamas’s hands, the officials added.
The three aid convoys that have entered Gaza since Friday have not included fuel, which the UN said was on the verge of running out, leaving hospitals unable to save lives.
Additional reporting by Andrew England in London