Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has warned Israel its goal of eliminating Hamas will take a decade, if it is achievable at all.
“What is the total destruction of Hamas, and does anyone think it’s possible? If it is, the war will last 10 years,” said Mr Macron on Saturday.
Israel has pledged to continue ground operations in Gaza until all of its goals – which includes eradicating Hamas – are achieved.
“We will continue the war until we achieve all its goals,” Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, reiterated in an address Saturday night. He said he had instructed the Israel Defense Forces to ‘intensify’ the operation to destroy Hamas and “release our hostages”.
Mr Macron said that the “lasting security” of Israel was at stake and could not be guaranteed if it “comes at the cost of Palestinian lives, and therefore the resentment of all public opinion in the region”.
“I think we’re at a point where the Israeli authorities are going to have to define their objective and desired end state more precisely,” Mr Macron said, speaking at a press conference on the sidelines of the UN’s Cop28 climate talks.
The United States also weighed in on its ally’s attacks over the weekend, with Kamala Harris, the vice-president, sharply rebuking the rising civilian toll.
“Too many innocent Palestinians have been killed,” she said. “Frankly, the scale of civilian suffering and the images and videos coming from Gaza are devastating.”
Lloyd Austin, the US Defense Secretary, also said it a “moral responsibility” for Israel to protect civilians.
Israel’s military chief on Sunday appeared to directly contradict US warnings that the offensive in the south of Gaza must not be as intense as that in the north.
“We fought strongly and thoroughly in the northern Gaza Strip, and we are also doing it now in the southern Gaza,” the Chief of General Staff Herzi Halevi said in a statement.
The US provides billions of dollars in military aid to Israel annually, and the senior officials’ remarks reinforced pressure from Washington for Israel to use more caution as it shifts the focus of its military offensive further south.
Asked for a response to Mr Macron’s remarks, Mark Regev, a senior adviser to Mr Netanyahu, said that Israel does not want to see Gaza civilians caught in the crossfire.
‘Halfway to achieving our objectives’
The Israeli army resumed shelling the Gaza Strip on Friday following the collapse of a week-long truce.
Since the end of the ceasefire, Israel said its air, naval and ground forces have attacked more than 400 targets in Gaza. It also ordered more areas in and around Gaza’s second-largest city of Khan Younis to evacuate, as it shifted its offensive to the southern half of the territory.
Israel is said to be planning a campaign against Hamas that will continue for a year or more, with the most intensive phase of the ground offensive continuing into early 2024, according to a report from the Financial Times.
“This will be a very long war… We’re currently not near halfway to achieving our objectives,” one person familiar with the Israeli war plans told the newspaper. Sources said its goals included killing the three top Hamas leaders, securing “a decisive” military victory against the group’s 24 battalions, and destroying its “governing capability in Gaza”.
It is not the first time that Mr Macron has made headline-grabbing statements about the Israel-Gaza conflict. On Nov 11, Mr Macron said Israel must stop killing babies and women in Gaza and that – while recognising Israel’s right to protect itself – there was “no justification” for the bombing “these babies, these ladies, these old people”.
The following day, Mr Macron called Isaac Herzog, Israel’s president, to clarify that he “does not and did not intend to accuse Israel of intentionally harming innocent civilians in the campaign against the terrorist organisation Hamas”.