U.S. May Use a Hospital Ship to Aid the Sick Wounded in Lebanon

The U.S. government is considering the use of a hospital ship to aid sick and wounded in the Lebanese conflict. A decision, probably in favor of the project as a humanitarian gesture is expected soon. The State Department today officially disclosed consideration of the proposal to President Ford by Sen. James Abourezk (D.SD) to establish a “floating hospital” in Lebanese waters.

Factors understood to be receiving major attention include the price the Palestine Liberation Organization would extract for the presence of an American ship in Beirut harbor. PLO gunfire can prevent successful operation of the project. The two evacuations of Americans and others by land and sea from west Beirut required PLO escorts.

A second factor is whether the bitterly warring forces will be able to agree on the rationing of the ships facilities for civilians within their political orbits.

TWO SUITABLE VESSELS LOCATED

Abourezk, who is regarded the chief supporter in Congress of Palestinians, including the PLO, is in contact with both the State and Defense Departments about his plan. His office told the JTA that the Pentagon has located two suitable vessels, both in need of repair. One is a Project Hope ship in San Francisco and the other is a military vessel in Philadelphia. Project Hope is the name given to the American medical project in disaster areas or where medical facilities are insufficient — a situation that now prevails in Lebanon.

According to an aide, Abourezk, who is of Lebanese descent, is prepared to attach a rider to the Defense Appropriation Bill now before Congress that would provide funds for refurbishing a ship and maintaining it while being used as a hospital. He said that a medical doctor has told Abourezk that he would organize a staff of volunteers to supply services on the ship.

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