France's Macron proposes that anti-Islamic State coalition fights Hamas

The French president warns against the risks of a regional conflict, stressing the fight against Hamas ‘must be without mercy but not without rules’

Noemie OliveReuters
Published : 24 Oct 2023, 11:28 AM
Updated : 24 Oct 2023, 11:28 AM

French President Emmanuel Macron proposed on Tuesday that an international coalition fighting against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria be widened to include the fight against the Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza.

Speaking alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Macron stressed that France and Israel share terrorism as their "common enemy", but gave little detail on how the US-led coalition of dozens of countries could be involved.

"France is ready for the international coalition against Daesh in which we are taking part for operations in Iraq and Syria to also fight against Hamas," he told reporters, referring to Islamic State and promising not to leave Israel alone.

Macron also warned against the risks of a regional conflict, stressing the fight against Hamas "must be without mercy but not without rules".

Thirty French citizens were killed by Hamas militants in their attack on southern Israel on Oct 7.

The French president, who met families of French victims at Tel Aviv airport, said freeing nine French hostages was the first priority for France.

"They must all be freed," he said.

Earlier, Macron told President Isaac Herzog in Jerusalem that France stood "shoulder to shoulder" with Israel.

Beyond showing solidarity, Macron wanted to make "proposals that are as operational as possible" to prevent an escalation, to free hostages, and guarantee Israel's security and work towards a two-state solution, presidential advisers said. He will push for a humanitarian truce, they added.

Macron's visit comes after European Union foreign ministers on Monday struggled to agree on a call for a "humanitarian pause" in the war between Israel and Hamas to allow much more aid to reach civilians.

Mahmoud Abbas's office said Macron would meet the Palestinian leader in Ramallah, in the West Bank.

'SOFT POWER FADED'

Macron's ability to influence events in the region appears limited by what some analysts say is a shift towards a more pro-Israel Anglo-American line, in contrast with the traditionally distinctive and more pro-Arab French Gaullist approach.

"France's soft power south of the Mediterranean has considerably faded," said Karim Emile Bitar, a Beirut-based foreign policy expert at French think tank IRIS.

"We're under the impression that nothing distinguishes France from other Western countries now," he said.

The French government's decision to adopt a blanket ban on pro-Palestinian protests, before it was struck down by courts, is one reason Macron has lost credit in the Arab world, he said.

French officials contest the idea that Macron's policy is biased. They say Macron has constantly reaffirmed the rights of Palestinians and the position of a two-state solution.

Macron's visit will also have a special resonance at home, where France's large Muslim and Jewish communities are on tenterhooks following the killing of a teacher by an Islamist militant that French officials have linked to the events in Gaza.

The French leader will have to tread a fine line during his tour of the region, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict having stoked tension at home and with France's fractious opposition ready to pounce on any faux pas.

The coalition fighting Islamic State was formed in September 2014 and has supported local partners "to deliver the military defeat of Daesh in Iraq and Syria" and "works to advise, assist and enable" them, including with reconnaissance and intelligence, it says on its website.