By Roberto Cetera
A special flight transported from the Gaza Strip the first 11 children – who are seriously ill or injured from the massive bombardments and fighting – to Rome’s Ciampino military airport Monday evening.
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 Italy. With them is also a young man just over 18 years old.
In Italy, they will all be treated in the most important pediatric hospitals, including the Vatican-run Bambino Gesù in Rome, which will take care of the first reception and sorting, as well as 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 the victims of the war in Gaza.
Synergy between Ministries
“The day after tomorrow,” explained General Francesco Paolo Figliuolo, speaking of a “synergic activity” between various ministries, “it will be the turn of the departure for Italy of the hospital ship ‘Vulcano,’ currently at anchor on the Egyptian coast.”
It will set sail on 31 January with about fifty accompanied minors on board and in 4-5 days will moor in a central port depending on where the children will be hospitalized.
In February, an airlift will then start to take other children currently hospitalized in Cairo to several Italian hospitals. Last evening, the University of Perugia and San Marino’s hospitals also indicated their availability.
“We will bring everyone we can,” assured Mr. Figliuolo.
The work of Father Faltas
The initiative that allowed the children of Gaza to come to Italy to receive assistance had the support from the very beginning of the Vicar of the Custody of the Holy Land, Father Ibrahim Faltas, who recently told L’Osservatore Romano about his pastoral work with the families living in the Strip.
Asked what he could do for the injured or sick children, he said that he had “immediately activated with the Italian governmental structures and immediately received enthusiastic approval.”
Thanks to the dense network of relations established over the years, Father Faltas was able to initiate “an intense mediation activity involving Israelis, Palestinians, and Egyptians.”
Last evening, while awaiting the arrival of the children on the XXXI Air Force flight, Father Faltas did not hold back his emotion at what he described to Vatican Media as “a first sign of peace, peace that needs listening and humility.”
The Franciscan friar reiterated once again his gratitude to the Italian people, “because Italy is the first country in Europe to receive children from Gaza who otherwise could 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.”
Tajani: a commitment made
For his part, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Antonio Tajani, who was present at Ciampino airport, told Vatican Media, “We have worked intensively with the Israeli authorities, with the Palestinian national authorities, and with the Egyptian authorities. We concluded the negotiations on Thursday in Israel. It is a commitment we have made.”
“Italy,” he said, “continues to express its solidarity with those who are certainly innocent victims.”
The Palestinian Ambassador to Italy, Abeer Odeh, offered a profound “Thank you”, for the efforts, saying she was “moved” by the welcome given to these children victims of brutal attacks in Gaza.
“We thank the Italian government for helping our minors. We hope that many more children will be received,” the Ambassador said.