PARIS (AP) — A team of French military doctors headed to the Syria-Jordan border on Thursday to set up a mobile hospital to treat refugees fleeing Syrian violence by the thousands.
The medics aim to be operative by the end of the week and to perform up to 10 surgeries a day on those wounded in fighting, said Col. Gerard Dosseh before boarding a flight at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport.
He was among some 25 medical personnel on the team, which is bringing about 20 tons of medical equipment to Amman, Jordan, and then to a site a few dozen kilometers from the border.
France, Syria's onetime colonial ruler, has been in the forefront of diplomatic efforts to end fighting in Syria, which has sent some 250,000 refugees fleeing to neighboring countries, and to press for a democratic transition. But as fighting intensifies, concern is focusing on the growing refugee crisis as Syrians spill out of their homeland.
"There will be many wounded who have crossed the Jordanian-Syrian border, those wounded by gunfire who will need surgery," Dosseh told AP Television News.
The Italians have also set up a field hospital in northern Jordan near the Syrian border that started operating in early July.
The French move comes as diplomatic efforts to halt the war in Syria remain stymied, with Russia and China using their veto power to block U.N. Security Council resolutions that would increase pressure on President Bashar Assad.
France, presiding over the Security Council this month, is hoping for a diplomatic breakthrough. Paris has called for a ministerial meeting Aug. 30 in New York to be devoted mainly to the humanitarian situation but also meant to show support for Syrians and concern for regional stability, the Foreign Ministry said this week. Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who will lead the session, is traveling to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey starting Aug. 15.
These soft steps aren't enough for former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who interjected himself this week into the Syrian crisis with a call for France to take action as it did in Libya, where he triggered the momentum for an international coalition to back rebel fighters who ultimately killed dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Sarkozy spoke this week with the president of the opposition Syrian National Council, Abdelbaset Sieda, and called for "rapid action" on Syria, according to French media reports. It amounted to a dig at Socialist President Francois Hollande's handling of the Syrian crisis. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told RFI radio that such quick moves are "easy to say, very dangerous to do."