French floating hospital docks off coast of Egypt to treat wounded Gazans

Impact of ship’s 40 beds limited as WHO says 30,000 are wounded in Strip, but Paris also donating to existing field hospitals, rallying international community to boost donations

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

A French floating hospital arrives off the coast of Egypt on November 27, 2023. (Emmanuel Macron/X)
A French floating hospital arrives off the coast of Egypt on November 27, 2023. (Emmanuel Macron/X)

A ship dispatched by France has docked off the coast of El Arish in Egypt’s northern Sinai and will serve as a floating hospital for Palestinian civilians wounded in the Israel-Hamas war in adjacent Gaza, French President Emmanuel Macron announced on Monday.

The Dixmude ship contains 40 hospital beds, comprising ten percent of the current number of beds in northern Sinai, where 400 beds are already serving patients in the desert bordering Gaza, a French diplomat told The Times of Israel on Tuesday.

It is also equipped with a helicopter landing pad to allow for the speedy transfer of patients from Egypt’s Rafah crossing onto the ship.

The Dixmude is slated to be operational within the coming hours or days, the French diplomat said, adding that Paris is coordinating the effort with Egyptian officials and humanitarian agencies on the ground. It will be staffed by doctors from France’s defense ministry as well as its civilian health sanitary reserve, which is being deployed abroad for the first time, the diplomat said.

While there had initially been proposals for ships to dock off the coast of Gaza, it is too damaged from the ongoing fighting for large boats to be able to dock there.

Israel has been pushing for field hospitals and other alternatives to the existing medical centers in Gaza, saying that Hamas is operating command centers beneath them.

A nurse cares for prematurely born Palestinian babies that were brought from Shifa Hospital in Gaza City to the hospital in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Nov. 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

Israel is also supportive of a European Union effort for the establishment of a marine humanitarian corridor, with ships of aid first docking in Cyprus for inspections before continuing to Gaza, a second Israeli official said.

But the damage to Gaza’s port due to Israeli airstrikes complicates this proposal, which has been floated for years and never implemented.

The Dixmude represents a drop in the bucket, as the World Health Organization says there are currently 30,000 wounded Palestinians in Gaza.

But France is also contributing to other efforts to treat Gazan patients, donating half a million Euros toward Jordan’s field hospital in southern Gaza while engaging in talks to make a similar contribution to the UAE field hospital in that same area, the French diplomat said.

France has also sent four military planes, carrying 100 tons of aid to Egypt — half of which has already entered Gaza via the Egyptian Red Crescent, according to the diplomat.

Paris is also preparing to transfer as many as 50 wounded Gazans back to France for treatment, depending on the need for more specialized treatment, the diplomat said.

Macron hosted a humanitarian conference earlier this month, which garnered 1 billion euros in aid pledges from donor countries. The diplomat said a follow-up virtual meeting will be held on December 6 to further coordinate between donors and ensure that the aid is arriving where it is needed.

France has expressed support for the ongoing truce in Gaza while calling for its extension in order to facilitate the entry of aid into the Strip and the exit of hostages out of the Strip.

It has held off on calling for a more complete ceasefire, backing Israel’s right to self-defense against Hamas after 3,000 Hamas-led terrorists massacred 1,200 people — most of whom civilians — in southern Israel on October 7. However, a ceasefire is the eventual goal, the French diplomat said.

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