International organizations and aid agencies called on Thursday for an immediate ceasefire to end a “hemorrhage of human lives” in Gaza, warning that the situation could quickly spiral out of control.
They made their appeals at a conference in Paris intended to coordinate aid and assess how to help people wounded in Gaza since Israeli launched its ground and air offensive in response to an attack by Hamas militants on southern Israel on Oct. 7.
Representatives of Arab nations, Western powers and members of the Group of 20 major economies were among those attending the conference, but Israel was not invited and few heads of state, government or foreign ministers were there. Expectations for concrete results are low if there is no pause in fighting.
Participants were set to discuss a proposal to create a maritime corridor to ship humanitarian aid into Gaza or evacuate the wounded, the establishment of field hospitals and financial assistance to ease the growing humanitarian crisis.
“We cannot wait a minute more for a humanitarian ceasefire or lifting of siege which is collective punishment,” said Jan Egeland, the Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council.
“Without a ceasefire, lifting of siege and indiscriminate bombarding and warfare, the hemorrhage of human lives will continue,” he said in comments echoed by the United Nations and the International Red Cross.
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Israel has ruled out an immediate ceasefire that might help strengthen Hamas. The United States has echoed the Israeli view, warning that a ceasefire could help Hamas regroup, but has called for humanitarian pauses.
Doctors Without Borders chief Isabelle Defourny, whose staff operate in Gaza, said safe zones for Palestinians in southern Gaza were unrealistic and that sustained halts in fighting were needed, “not an hour (pause) here or there.”
Palestinian officials said 10,569 Gaza residents had been killed as of Wednesday, about 40% of them children. Israel said Hamas gunmen killed 1,400 people and took about 240 others hostage in the Oct. 7 assault.
Opening the conference, French President Emmanuel Macron called for a swift humanitarian pause.
“The situation is serious and getting worse each day. We need a humanitarian pause very quickly and (a) push for a ceasefire,” he said.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh was present at the conference. French officials said Israel was being kept informed of developments.
“How many Palestinians must be killed for the war to stop,” Shtayyeh asked. “Is killing 10,000 people in 30 days enough?”
Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), said all crossings into Gaza should be opened.
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Without buy-in from Israel or Hamas for a pause in fighting, there is little prospect of things moving quickly. But French officials hope the conference will lay the groundwork for a swift international response when there is a pause.
Efforts will be made at the conference to mobilize financial resources, with several sectors identified for emergency support based on U.N. assessments of the $1.1 billion of immediate needs.
Re-establishing supplies of water, fuel and electricity will also be discussed, while ensuring accountability processes to ensure aid is not diverted to Hamas.
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Macron said France would raise financial aid to Palestinians this year from 20 million euros to 100 million euros ($106.87 million).
Cyprus outlined the proposal to set up a maritime corridor to use sea lanes to ship humanitarian aid into Gaza and see how ships could be used to help evacuate the wounded.
Although the conference was expected to assess the prospect for establishing field hospitals, diplomats have said Egypt is reluctant to host a multitude of hospitals on its territory, while setting them up in Gaza could be difficult without a humanitarian pause or ceasefire.
(Writing by John Irish; Editing by David Gregorio, Ingrid Melander and Timothy Heritage)