INTERNATIONAL

Gaza ceasefire efforts at heart of Qatar emir’s France visit

Attempts to organise an Israel-Hamas ceasefire to allow the release of hostages held in Gaza dominated the first day of a state visit to France by Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.

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Qatar has played a key mediation role since the Gaza war erupted in October and international diplomatic efforts have intensified in recent days to halt hostilities for the Ramadan Muslim holiday.

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The emir and President Emmanuel Macron reaffirmed during their talks the need to “very quickly” achieve a ceasefire, the French presidential office said.

The two leaders also discussed prospects for creating a Palestinian state and other bilateral cooperation including humanitarian aid for Gaza, the Elysee said.

US President Joe Biden said Monday that Israel was ready to halt its military offensive against Gaza during Ramadan.

But Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has in parallel ordered his troops to prepare an offensive against the southern Gaza town of Rafah.

A ceasefire could allow for the release of hostages held by Hamas since its unprecedented attacks on southern Israel on October 7.

Hamas militants took about 250 Israeli and foreign hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 31 presumed dead, according to Israel.

The Hamas attacks resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 29,800 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest tally by the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza.

Three of the hostages are French nationals, and France has emphasised the urgency of bringing out the captives.

A week-long truce in November saw more than 100 hostages and 240 Palestinian prisoners freed, but recent talks have proved more difficult.

Egyptian, Qatari and US experts met in Doha on Sunday for talks also attended by Israeli and Hamas representatives, state-linked Egyptian media said.

Before that talks were held without a Hamas presence in Paris, where representatives “came to an understanding among the four of them about what the basic contours of a hostage deal for temporary ceasefire would look like”, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told CNN.

Al-Thani and Macron signed an accord on humanitarian cooperation, including for Gaza. Part of the accord set aside 200 million euros ($217 million) to help Palestinians.

Three French-Qatari transporter planes took 75 tonnes of relief goods, 10 ambulances, food rations and tents to Al-Arish, an Egyptian town near the Gaza border, the presidency said.

Al-Thani’s trip on Tuesday and Wednesday is his first state visit to France since he became emir of the small but gas-rich emirate in 2013.

As a host to a Hamas political bureau while maintaining close ties to the United States, the emir and Qatar’s mediation experience have taken on a central role in efforts to defuse the Gaza war.

Macron hosted a state dinner for the emir, where on top of political, business and entertainment figures, France football captain Kylian Mbappe was one of the guests.

Mbappe plays for the Paris Saint-Germain club that is owned by a Qatari entity. PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi is a part of the emir’s inner circle.

Macron at the start of the dinner that Qatar had agreed to invest 10 billion euros in the French economy by 2030.

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