A French frigate carrying a helicopter was on its way to international waters off the coast of Gaza to participate in a mission against arms trafficking in the Palestinian territory, officials said.
The deployment was ordered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy in cooperation with Israel and Egypt as part of "immediate actions to fight against the smuggling of weapons towards Gaza," his office said in a statement yesterday.
The French warship will conduct "surveillance in international waters off Gaza, in full cooperation with Egypt and Israel," the French presidency said.
The statement appeared to indicate that the ship would be restricted to surveillance operations and will not board boats suspected of carrying weapons.
Cooperation with Israel and Egypt appeared to imply that France would share intelligence with the two countries, which could conduct searches of suspect ships in their respective waters.
The French military said late Friday that the warship named Germinal, which was deployed off Lebanon as part of a UN mission, would reach its destination "in the coming hours".
The ship carries a helicopter and radars that can track nearby boats, said Captain Christophe Prazuck.
Germinal will act as a "maritime control tower that detects all ships within its radar range and allows the tracking of their movements in a radius of several dozen kilometres," Prazuck said.
The warship was also on a mission to prevent weapons smuggling to Lebanon by sea.