France sends floating hospital to help treat Gaza's wounded

Speaking with Netanyahu, Macron says ‘too many civilian losses’ in Gaza

Phone call comes after French president’s recent criticism of offensive against Hamas sparked Israeli ire; Macron also speaks with Abbas, urges PA to condemn October 7

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) shakes hands with French President Emmanuel Macron (L) as they hold a joint press conference in Jerusalem on October 24, 2023. (Christophe Ena/Pool/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) shakes hands with French President Emmanuel Macron (L) as they hold a joint press conference in Jerusalem on October 24, 2023. (Christophe Ena/Pool/AFP)

French President Emmanuel Macron told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a new phone call that there were “too many civilian losses” in Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, his office said Sunday.

The phone call came after Macron came under fire in Jerusalem last week for criticizing the IDF’s military campaign, saying it was “de facto” killing “ladies and babies” in Gaza. Paris has since sought to soften its criticism while still calling for a ceasefire.

Israel says its air strikes — overwhelmingly blamed by Gazans for the deaths — target the gunmen and infrastructure of Hamas. Israel has vowed to eliminate the group after 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel six weeks ago, massacred some 1,200 people, most of them civilians, amid brutal atrocities, and abducted 240 more to Gaza where they are still held hostage.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says Israel’s campaign has killed 13,000 people in Gaza, asserting that the victims are mainly civilians and include thousands of children. Those figures and claims cannot be independently verified, and Hamas has been accused of inflating them and of designating gunmen in their late teens as children. It is not known how many among its total are combatants, and how many among the dead were victims of hundreds of rockets aimed at Israel that misfired and exploded inside Gaza. Israel accuses Hamas of using Gazans as human shields and running its war machine from inside and close to hospitals, schools, mosques and UN facilities.

Macron reminded Netanyahu of the “absolute necessity to distinguish terrorists from the population” and “the importance of achieving an immediate humanitarian truce leading to a ceasefire,” according to his office.

Netanyahu’s office released few details on his call with Macron, saying only that “the two leaders held a lengthy conversation about the progress of the war in the south, as well as the northern front,” in reference to Israel’s border with Lebanon.

IDF soldiers in the Gaza Strip’s Rimal neighborhood in a handout photo distributed on November 19, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Macron also condemned violence against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank in a conversation with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the French presidency said.

The French leader told Netanyahu about his “great concern over the escalation in violence against Palestinian civilians” in the West Bank and called for calm.

According to the Palestinian Authority health ministry, some 200 West Bank Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces, and in a few cases settlers, since the war between Israel and Hamas erupted. Israeli authorities say the vast majority were killed during attacks or while clashing with Israeli forces.

Macron also told Abbas of “the need for the Palestinian Authority and all countries in the region to unequivocally and with the greatest firmness condemn the terrorist attack carried out by Hamas in Israel on October 7.”

Netanyahu has repeatedly pointed to Abbas’s refusal to condemn the assault as the reason the Ramallah-based PA cannot be entrusted with ruling the Gaza Strip following the war, as the US and some others have called for.

French President Emmanuel Macron, right, is welcomed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on October 24, 2023. (Christophe Ena/Pool/AFP)

Earlier on Sunday, France Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu announced that a helicopter carrier dispatched by Paris has set sail for Egypt to provide medical support for Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

The ship will serve as a floating hospital complete with two operation rooms, 40 beds, an X-ray scanner and a lab and will largely be used to treat Palestinian children in need of emergency care, Lecornu said.

The helicopter carrier will allow medical workers to evacuate wounded Palestinians from the Gaza border and airlift them back onto the ship for treatment.

The Dixmude sets sail for Gaza on November 18, 2023. (Sébastien Lecornu/X)

The ship was ready to depart last week but was delayed since Israeli, Egyptian and French officials needed additional time to iron out logistical details regarding how the ship would function, a French diplomatic source told The Times of Israel.

Israel is looking to promote alternative hospitals to the ones in Gaza for treating Palestinian patients, arguing that Hamas is operating within and underneath those in the Strip.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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