French President Emmanuel Macron and Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi at the end of a joint press conference in Cairo, on October 25, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

CAIRO: Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al Sissi on Wednesday urged steps “to avoid a ground invasion” of the Gaza Strip as Israel battles Hamas militants in the Palestinian enclave.

At a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron, Al Sissi said the pair had discussed the “many, many civilian casualties” that could result from an Israeli ground invasion.

Al Sissi pointed to the “around 6,000” civilian fatalities already reported by Hamas authorities as a result of over two weeks of Israeli strikes, “half of whom are children”.

Macron said that France was sending a navy ship to support the Gaza Strip’s hospitals which are at risk of collapsing under Israel’s bombing and siege.

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The ship would “leave Toulon in the next 48 hours”, the French leader said.

France would also send a planeload of medical equipment to Egypt to be transported into the war-torn Palestinian territory.

Macron said that “France does not practise double standards”, pushing back against criticism of his government’s response to war between Israel and Hamas militants.

“International law applies to everyone and France carries the universal values of humanism,” Macron said, responding to claims by Arab leaders who have accused Western nations of overlooking harm to Palestinians.

“All lives are equal, all victims deserve our compassion and our lasting commitment to a just and sustainable peace in the Middle East,” said Macron.

Relief operations may be cut

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, meanwhile, warned that without immediate deliveries of fuel it will soon have to sharply cut back relief operations across the Gaza Strip, which has been blockaded and hit by devastating Israeli airstrikes since Hamas militants launched an attack on Israel more than two weeks ago.

The warning came as hospitals in Gaza struggled to treat masses of wounded with dwindling resources, and health officials in the Hamas-ruled territory said the death toll was soaring as Israeli jets continued striking the territory overnight into Wednesday.

The Israeli military said its strikes had killed militants and destroyed tunnels, command centres, weapons storehouses and other military targets, which it has accused Hamas of hiding among Gaza’s civilian population. Gaza-based militants have been launching unrelenting rocket barrages into Israel since the conflict started.

The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said the airstrikes killed at least 704 people between Monday and Tuesday, mostly women and children. The Associated Press could not independently verify the death tolls cited by Hamas, which says it tallies figures from hospital directors.

Israel said Tuesday it had launched 400 airstrikes over the past day, an increase from the 320 strikes the day before.

Gaza’s residents have been running out of food, water and medicine since Israel sealed off the territory following the attack on southern Israel by Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction.

Meanwhile, more than half of Gaza’s primary health care facilities, and roughly a third of its hospitals, have stopped functioning, the World Health Organization said.

Overwhelmed hospital staff struggled to triage cases as constant waves of wounded were brought in. The Health Ministry said many wounded are laid on the ground without even simple medical aid and others wait for days for surgeries because there are so many critical cases.