The amphibious helicopter carrier (PHA) Dixmude has finally arrived in Egypt. The National Navy vessel which is to provide medical and humanitarian aid to the population of Gaza has docked in the port of Al-Arish, around fifty kilometers from the enclave, announced the President of the Republic Emmanuel Macron in at night from Monday to Tuesday. The first injured have already arrived on board, Le Figaro learned this Wednesday.
Equipped with “hospital capacities”, the PHA is able to accommodate 40 injured people. Designed to provide medical support as close as possible to theaters of operations, this multipurpose building was however not designed to accommodate mass casualties. Its maximum is around sixty beds. But its important means of transport and evacuation make it a “Swiss army knife” of the navy. It takes over from another PHA, the Tonnerre, sent urgently to the eastern Mediterranean after the Hamas terrorist attack on October 7. It was really not configured to accommodate the wounded. It was then a question of sending a message to the actors in the region, by signaling a military presence.
Twenty-two doctors, sixteen surgeons and six pediatricians according to the Reuters agency, boarded the Dixmude. They come from the health reserve. Two surgery blocks equip the building which also has radiology machines. But everything remains to be done now. “The key question is that of transporting the wounded from Gaza,” the army spokesperson commented last week, emphasizing that it was not just the responsibility of the armies. A “liaison and reconnaissance team has already been deployed to prepare arrangements for the transfer of the wounded from Gaza in coordination with the Israeli and Egyptian authorities,” the ministry said.
It is a question of “refining health needs”, observed Sébastien Lecornu Tuesday morning on Europe 1, referring to needs “in orthopedics and ophthalmology for children”. The building's helicopter transportation capabilities will allow evacuations of patients to other hospitals in Egypt after their stabilization. The Minister of the Armed Forces Sébastien Lecornu hopes that the first patients will arrive on board “this week”. France also said it was prepared to welcome around fifty children from Gaza into its hospitals if necessary.
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France would like to play a role as a “framework nation” in terms of humanitarian and health aid to the population of Gaza. The term, borrowed from NATO operations, does not correspond to any framework yet formally specified. It signals France's desire to assume leadership on the subject and to coordinate actions between different contributors. Other countries have sent ships with hospital capacities to the region, such as the United Kingdom, with the Argus, or Italy, with the Vulcano.
Each additional bed will in any case be a relief for the thousands of injured people in Gaza. However, it took a long time to negotiate with Egypt to obtain the necessary authorizations. Cairo was initially opposed to the deployment of foreign aid on its territory, for fear of seeing the humanitarian crisis spill over. The Dixmude docking port, decided around ten days ago at the end of Minister of the Armed Forces Sébastien Lecornu's tour of the Middle East, had to be kept secret until the last moment.
If the PHA is there to symbolize French support for the Palestinians, it is not the only aid provided. It will also be necessary to resolve the issue of humanitarian freight transported to Egypt. This must then be delivered to the Gazans. As for French aid, around a hundred tonnes were transported by four rotations of military A400Ms and civilian flights. Al-Arish airport also serves as a logistics hub for the aid that accumulates at the gate of the Palestinian territory. Asked about the quantity actually delivered, the Ministry of the Armed Forces evades. The Red Crescent is then responsible for sending aid to Gaza, it is said. According to the NGOs on site, it is still insufficient for populations in distress. The truce between Israel and Hamas has nevertheless made it possible to increase the flow of trucks entering the enclave.