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Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Antonio Tajani on Thursday said his country has agreed to co-operate with the United Arab Emirates to treat wounded Palestinians in Italy, in the UAE, or in Italian military hospitals to be built either in Gaza or Egypt.
“We are ready to do it. The political decision has been made,” Mr Tajani said at the Italian embassy in Paris, shortly after giving a speech at a humanitarian conference for Gaza organised by French President Emmanuel Macron.
The UAE had approached Italy to enquire whether it would agree to support the treatment of wounded Palestinian civilians and the two countries are now working on practical solutions, said Mr Tajani, responding to questions from The National.
His announcement comes three days after the UAE said it would set up a 150-bed field hospital to treat Palestinians in the besieged enclave, where more than 10,500 people have died since October 7. Israel has been bombing the Gaza Strip in retaliation for a Hamas-led attack that killed about 1,400 people on October 7.
There are numerous possibilities for Italy to treat wounded Palestinians, Mr Tajani said. He cited Italy's decision on Wednesday to deploy the Vulcano ship carrying 170 crew including 30 who work in the onboard hospital. The ship left Naples on Thursday and is sailing towards the Gaza Strip, he said.
The Italian army is also planning to build field hospitals in Egypt or in Gaza near the Rafah border crossing, but the latter would be “more complicated” because it would require permits from Egypt, Israel and Palestinian representation, Mr Tajani said.
The “easiest option” is to move wounded civilians to the Vulcano by helicopter, he said. “It's not about 10, 30 or 50 [Palestinians],” he said. “It must be a political decision.”
Unifil-like mission in Gaza
Mr Tajani suggested that once the current Israel-Gaza conflict is over, a UN-mission akin to the one in south Lebanon at the border with Israel could be stationed in Gaza. He did not give further details about how such a deployment, which necessitates a UN resolution, would become reality.
Discussions about the delivery of aid by sea to Gaza have intensified in the past weeks as the entry of aid lorries by land via the Rafah border crossing remain largely insufficient, according to the UN.
France has sent the helicopter carrier Tonnerre, which has a hospital with two operating rooms, 69 beds and a large stockpile of army rations, to the Eastern Mediterranean.
But recent reporting by Radio France, which boarded the Tonnerre, showed that there were no patients on the ship despite the evacuation of dozens of wounded Palestinians from the Gaza Strip.
The number of lorries crossing into Gaza has plummeted to 500 in the past month, instead of about 500 a day before the conflict, a number that is insufficient, said Prince Rashid bin Al Hassan, special adviser to King Abdullah of Jordan.
Prince Rashid, who heads the board of trustees of the Jordan Hashemite Charitable Organisation, said that Jordanian lorries carrying aid for the West Bank were queuing to enter the area but had been denied access.
“Even here, they are not permitted to enter and there are deliberate obstacles and delays in order for them to do their vital work in support of UN partners,” said Prince Rashid, without directly naming Israel as responsible for the obstacles, in a speech at the conference on Gaza in Paris.
Most Arab representatives who attended the meeting called for a ceasefire, a call western leaders have been more reluctant to make.
Protecting civilians is “non negotiable,” Mr Macron said. “We need a very quick humanitarian pause or break and we have to work towards a ceasefire,” he added.
Israel, which was not present at the Paris conference, denies that there is a humanitarian crisis.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday reiterated that there will be no ceasefire without the release of the more than 220 Israeli hostages held by Hamas.
At the Paris conference, Cyprus's President Nikos Christodoulides also unveiled parts of a 25-page plan, which he said had been discussed with Israel, the EU, the US, France, Greece, and the Netherlands, for his country to become the base for a maritime corridor of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.
Followed by warships, ships carrying aid would sail directly from Larnaca port to a landing area in the south-west of Gaza, Mr Christodoulides said.
“The ships' landing point, transport route and storage areas would be declared as humanitarian areas,” he said.
Representatives of UN agencies such as UNRWA and the ICRC, as well as the Palestinian Authority, would control the inspection, transport, storage and distribution of the aid, he said.
Greece's Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis described the plan as “well thought out” and said that his country was ready to support Cyprus.
“The most difficult aspect is to identify a proper landing zone in southern Gaza to establish the necessary port infrastructure and of course to ensure the safety of the route which would need the co-operation of all actors involved,” said Mr Mitsotakis.
“If these preconditions are met, Greece would stand ready to provide naval assets to assist with this project and would be looking to all involved actors to help us with possible logistics, especially those who know the geography of the area in much more detail,” he said.
Some observers had doubts about how any of these proposals could work without a prolonged break in the fighting in Gaza.
“It is hard to understand how this or any wider package of aid can work without a ceasefire,” said Kelly Petillo, programme manager for the Middle East and North Africa at the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank.
“The sustainability of this initiative is questionable,” Ms Petillo told The National. “We had hospitals in Gaza, and Israel destroyed them. Creating hospitals floating in the Mediterranean is not a solution.”