France to treat almost 40 Iraqis wounded in church assault
Almost 40 Iraqis wounded in a deadly Al-Qaeda hostage crisis in a Baghdad church are to be flown to France for hospital treatment, the French embassy in the Iraqi capital said on Saturday.
"There are 37 people who were wounded in the October 31 attack and 20 others accompanying them. Their departure is planned for Monday morning on a hospital plane," the diplomat told AFP, adding the figure was not final.
Almost all of the wounded are Christians, apart from two Muslims, a member of the targeted community said.
"The wounded will be sent to different hospitals in France, especially Paris," said the diplomat, who asked not to be named. He said it was unclear if the Iraqis would be allowed to stay on in France after their treatment.
France had announced a day after the church bloodbath that it was ready to take in 150 Iraqis, with the priority going to those wounded in the attack and their families.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner announced earlier on Saturday during a visit to Beirut that about 30 wounded Iraqi Christians were to be flown to his country for hospital treatment.
At least 46 hostages, including two priests, were killed amid gunfire and explosions during a raid by Iraqi security forces to end the hostage-taking by Al-Qaeda gunmen in a Syriac Catholic cathedral during Sunday mass.
Al-Qaeda has declared Christians everywhere "legitimate targets" in the wake of the bloodshed at the Baghdad church.
Around 800,000 Christians lived in Iraq prior to the US-led invasion of 2003 but that number has since shrunk to around 500,000 in the face of repeated attacks against their community and churches.
Christians in Baghdad have now dwindled to around 150,000, a third of their former population in the capital. The 14 Chaldean churches still in use in the capital are half the number of seven years ago.
© 2010 AFP