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Middle East crisis

French warship docks in Egypt, could treat Gaza children this week

French warship docks in Egypt, could treat Gaza children this week
French Navy (Marine Nationale) soldiers carry supplies to the amphibious assault ship 'LHD Dixmude' (C) which is moored at a quai at Tanjung Priok Harbor in Jakarta, Indonesia 28 March 2023. The French Navy ships 'La Fayette' and 'LHD Dixmude' called in the Indonesian capital's harbor for four days for a visit to strengthen their countries' bilateral ties within their mission 'Jeanne D'Arc 2023', a French Navy's annual long duration deployment aimed at providing 'officer cadets with 'at sea' training before joining their units as officers'. EPA-EFE/BAGUS INDAHONO

PARIS, Nov 28 (Reuters) - The French helicopter carrier Dixmude has docked in Egypt and could start treating wounded children from Gaza later this week, Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu said on Tuesday, as Western powers look to ramp up efforts to aid the enclave.

It is the first Western military ship to dock in Egypt since the conflict started and moored on Monday at al-Arish 50 km (31 miles) west of Gaza, now a hub for international aid for Gaza.

The ship’s arrival comes amid a truce in fighting between Israel and Hamas, in which Israeli hostages abducted by the militant group during its attack on Oct. 7 are being exchanged for Palestinians prisoners.

The temporary ceasefire has provided an opportunity to get further aid into Gaza and create processes for evacuating wounded civilians.

“We have this ship, which has been transformed into a hospital and which arrived yesterday. It has 40 beds,” Lecornu told Europe 1 radio, adding he hoped it could start receiving patients this week.

The Dixmude’s medical capacities have been adapted to create a military-civilian medical force, notably in paediatrics. With two operating theatres and 40 beds, it could treat those with light injuries before they are moved to hospitals on the ground.

Paris has made available, if necessary, 50 beds in France for gravely wounded and sick children in Gaza, which could include cancer patients.

Once treated on the Dixmude, the children will need to be moved to larger hospitals in Egypt or field hospitals in Gaza so that more patients may be tended to.

Some 22 civilians doctors, including 16 surgeons and six paediatricians, are on board, French officials said.

Egypt has said it could integrate children into its medical system, but has asked France for more specialised equipment and financing, officials said.

Lecornu said a team of seven French military officials were liaising with Egyptian and Israeli authorities over the arrangements.

Authorisations from Egypt and Israel will first be required, as well as background checks of adults accompanying children.

The deployment of the carrier comes after policy mishaps and hesitations that have seen President Emmanuel Macron face criticism at home as he treads a fine line in a country with the European Union’s largest Muslim and Jewish populations.

French officials have dismissed this, saying Paris is looking to lead a humanitarian coalition and convince others to also send military assets to the region.

Italy has sent a naval medical ship and diplomats said Britain could soon deploy a ship transformed for medical purposes.

(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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