· Vatican City ·

Sick and injured children from Gaza arrive for care in Italy

 Sick and injured children  from Gaza arrive for care in Italy  ING-005
02 February 2024

A special flight carrying 11 children from Gaza, who are seriously ill or were injured during the war, arrived at Rome’s Ciampino military airport at 9:37 p.m. on Monday, 29 January. Had they stayed in Gaza, on-site treatment would have been difficult, if not impossible. The children crossed the border into Egypt and from there boarded planes bound for Rome. Also travelling with them were a young man who had just turned 18, 13 chaperones, very young mothers, relatives and nurses.

The children will be treated in a number of paediatric hospitals, throughout Italy, including the Bambino Gesù in Rome, which will handle the initial reception and sorting; Gaslini Hospital in Genoa, Rizzoli Hospital in Bologna; and Meyer Hospital in Florence.

Italy is the first European country to launch an international rescue operation for victims of the war in Gaza. Speaking to L’Osservatore Romano, General Francesco Paolo Figliuolo said that the hospital-ship, ‘Vulcano’, set sail from Egypt, heading for Italy, on Wednesday, 31 January, carrying an additional 50 accompanied minors on board. The ship will moor in several ports, depending on where the children will be hospitalized. An airlift is planned for later this month, in which some children who are currently hospitalized in Cairo will be transported to various Italian hospitals.

On Monday evening, 29 January, the University of Perugia and San Marino’s hospitals also indicated their availability to participate in assisting the children. “We will bring everyone we can”, assured General Figliuolo, who was visibly moved upon entering the airplane shortly after it landed.

Father Ibrahim Faltas, Vicar of the Custody of the Holy Land, welcomed the initiative from the very beginning. He recently told L’Osservatore Romano about his pastoral work with the families living in Gaza. When he was asked what he could do for the injured and sick children, he got in touch with Italian government structures and immediately received an enthusiastic positive response.

Thanks to a substantial network of relations established over the years, Father Faltas was able to initiate “an intense mediation activity involving Israelis, Palestinians and Egyptians”.

While waiting for the children’s arrival on the xxxi Air Force flight, Father Faltas did not hold back his emotion at what he described as “a first sign of peace; peace that needs listening and humility”. The Franciscan expressed his gratitude to the Italian people, highlighting that “Italy is the first country in Europe to receive children from Gaza, who would otherwise not have been treated. Italy has always been close to this cause. We asked and they accepted. When the children are truly cured, they will be able to return to their country”.

For his part, Italy’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Antonio Tajani, who was at Ciampino airport to welcome the flight, told L’Osservatore Romano that the government had worked closely with Israeli authorities, Palestinian national authorities, and Egyptian authorities to facilitate the children’s transfer. He affirmed that Italy “continues to express its solidarity with those who are certainly innocent victims”.

The Palestinian Ambassador to Italy, Ms Abeer Odeh, expressed her gratitude for the efforts that were made to help the children. She said she was moved by the welcome given to these children, who were victims of “brutal attacks” in Gaza. “We thank, also through your newspaper, the Italian government for helping our minors. We hope that many more children will be received, and that the Italian initiative will be emulated by other European countries”.

As soon as they landed, despite showing signs of physical suffering, all the children had smiles on their faces, finally free from the hell they had lived in for months.

By Roberto Cetera