By John Irish and Elizabeth Pineau
PARIS (Reuters) – Some 80 countries and international organisations meet in Paris on Thursday to coordinate aid and assess how to help the wounded in the Palestinian enclave of Gaza, although expectations for concrete results are low without some pause in fighting.
France offered support for Israel after a deadly Oct. 7 attack by Hamas Islamists, yet Israel’s retaliatory bombardment has raised concerns as civilian casualties have soared. Thousands have been killed, wounded and displaced in Gaza.
“It’s not a secret for anybody that access is difficult today in Gaza for basic necessities, medicines, water, etc… So the object is really to work with all the participants and also with Israel … to allow improved access,” a French presidential official told reporters ahead of the conference.
The Palestinian Authority’s prime minister will be present, but Israel was not invited. French officials said Israel was being kept informed of developments.
The conference brings together regional stakeholders such as Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf Arab countries as well as Western powers and G20 members except for Russia. International institutions and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) operating in Gaza, such as Doctors Without Borders, are also due to attend.
However, few heads of state, government or foreign ministers will attend, and NGOs have been critical that there is not more pressure at the conference for a ceasefire.
“It will be an exercise in repeating the national positions, saying what each state has given and will give, that civilians have to be protected and international humanitarian law kept to,” said one European diplomat.
French officials hope it will lay the groundwork for a swift international response when there is an actual pause in the fighting.
There will be some effort to mobilise financial resources with several sectors identified for emergency support based on U.N. assessments of the $1.1 billion of immediate needs and the opening of strictly humanitarian crossing points into Gaza.
France is due to announce an increase in its commitments.
Re-establishing the supply of water, fuel and electricity would be under discussion, while ensuring accountability processes to ensure aid was not diverted to Hamas.
There will be a discussion 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.
Talks will also assess the prospect for establishing field hospitals, although diplomats have said Egypt is reluctant to host a multitude of hospitals on its territory while setting them up in Gaza seems difficult without a humanitarian pause or ceasefire.
Without buy-in from Israel or Hamas for a pause there is little prospect of things moving quickly.
“We expect that the conference on humanitarian issues in Gaza will certainly raise the issue of the 241 Israeli hostages, who are in Gaza, including babies, children, women and the elderly,” an Israeli official told Reuters.
“This is a first rate humanitarian issue and the international community has to discuss this topic as part of a humanitarian discussion on Gaza.”
The French presidency official said the issue would be on the table.