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France's defense chief heads to Israel, Egypt, Gulf as Gaza war enters month 2

French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu is departing Tuesday for a visit to five countries in the region and the first by a French defense minister to Israel since 2000.

PARIS — French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu left on Tuesday to the Middle East, where he will make stops in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar and Israel. Lecornu noted that his arrival to Israel on Friday will be the first visit by a French defense minister to the country since 2000.

Lecornu was dispatched at the request of French President Emmanuel Macron as Paris tries to avoid further regional escalation. His mission is to address the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and to discuss issues of regional security, Lecornu said on Tuesday. The trip follows weeks of French shuttle diplomacy, including a visit to the region by Macron starting Oct. 24, since Hamas' Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

As defense minister, Lecornu will focus on the security implications of the widening conflict for French troops in the region, including the French soldiers which are part of the UNIFIL force in the south of Lebanon. The trip follows Macron's October visit to Israel, and comes at a time when Paris is particularly prioritizing preventing a second war front in Lebanon. Lecornu is also likely to address security surrounding France's delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza. 

"The minister will discuss with his counterparts the situation of the hostages and the missing persons — particularly the French ones — Israel's right to defend itself in respect to international law, humanitarian assistance [to Gaza] and the protection of civilian populations in Gaza, means to avoid any form of escalation, the fight against terrorism and the security parameters of the construction of a political solution," noted a source at the Defense Ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity. 

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