France sends second helicopter carrier to Gaza coastline eyeing medical help

People gather in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, in Paris

PARIS (Reuters) - France will send a second French helicopter carrier off the coast of Gaza as it works with Israeli and Egyptian authorities to find a way to provide medical assistance to people affected by the bombings in the besieged area.

Paris has already sent the Tonnerre carrier to the eastern Mediterranean on what President Emmanuel Macron described as a mission to support Gaza hospitals. Egypt this week began admitting limited numbers of wounded across its Gaza border.

However, it is unclear what exactly the ships will do in the region as they are too small to work as field hospitals for the number of wounded coming from Gaza.

Speaking to France Info radio, Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu said the helicopter carrier Dixmude would also now be heading to the region.

"It is being equipped to be transformed into a hospital vessel," Lecornu said.

A French military source said the Tonnerre, which has about 60 beds and two operating blocs, could only be used temporarily and as back-up for a larger hospital on land.

When asked how practical it would be to bring people from land to sea, Lecornu said things were still in the planning stages and discussions were ongoing with Egyptian and Israeli authorities.

"The idea is to tell all the actors in this conflict that we cannot leave civilian populations exposed to danger and, above all, without a healthcare solution on a humanitarian level," Lecornu said.

He said he hoped that France's decision to send ships would encourage others to do so therefore creating critical mass.

(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Jonathan Oatis)