French foreign minister says work still ongoing to secure Gaza truce

French FM Sejourne meets his Israeli counterpart Israel Katz, in Jerusalem

By John Irish

CAIRO (Reuters) -The French foreign minister said on Wednesday diplomats were still working to secure a truce in the war between Israel and Hamas and the release of hostages held in Gaza.

The mediation efforts were intensifying following a renewed push led by Egypt to revive the stalled negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian militant group.

Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne was updated on the negotiations by Egyptian officials when he made an unscheduled stop in Cairo after a five-day tour of the region.

"We came to coordinate our efforts for a truce. The messages given by France and its Arab partners in the region is that Israel pulls back on this offensive in Rafah," Sejourne said after meeting his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shukri.

He declined to say how optimistic he was of a deal being concluded or give details of where the negotiation stood.

France has three dual-nationals still held hostage by Hamas after the group's assault on Israel on Oct. 7 and has worked closely with Cairo on providing humanitarian aid and medical assistance to Palestinians in Gaza.

Sejourne's trip to Egypt follows stopovers in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Israel

With some momentum in the truce talks, Sejourne was in Egypt to assess whether those three hostages, who are not part of the Israeli military, could be on the list of people released and how close a deal actually is.

"We would like them to be on this list if a truce were to happen," he said.

Sejourne said he had also told Egyptian officials that it was important to put a French proposal to defuse conflict between Israel and Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah high on the agenda in case a Gaza truce is agreed.

The French minister, who met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Monday, said on Tuesday that the truce would only be a first step towards a long-term ceasefire.

"It is a question of life and death for many people on the ground," he said after meeting Shukri in the new administrative capital, some 70 km (43 miles) east of Cairo.

(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Richard Lough, Tomasz Janowski, Ros Russell and Angus MacSwan)