Italy's foreign affairs minister on Wednesday summoned France's ambassador to Rome following harsh criticism by the French president in which he accused Italian authorities of cynicism after they denied a humanitarian rescue ship carrying 629 shipwrecked migrants on board entry to port.
A brief statement by the foreign ministry said that the diplomat was being summoned specifically due to the scathing comments made by President Emmanuel Macron, who had said on Tuesday that Italy was "cynical and irresponsible" for leaving the vessel "Aquarius" stranded in the Mediterranean by refusing to grant it permission to dock.
?"Following the statements released in Paris yesterday on the case of the Aquarius, this morning the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Enzo Moavero Milanesi, summoned to the Farnesina the French Ambassador to Italy," read the statement, referring to the Farnesina Palace, where the ministry is located.
Italy's deputy prime minister and labor minister, Luigi di Maio _ who leads the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement that governs the country in coalition with the far-right Lega party _ had previously responded to Macron's disparagement by saying that Italy would not accept any "hypocritical lessons" from France, whose "preaching" he described as "embarrassing."
Di Maio added that France was expelling immigrants trying to cross over from the border towns of Ventimiglia and Bardonecchia every single day.
This was echoed by Matteo Salvini, Italy's anti-immigrant interior minister and Lega leader, who said that the French "act superior but they have pushed back more than 10,000 people at the borders with Italy.”
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Macron's political platform En Marche, Gabriel Attal, described the Italian government's position as "sickening" and added that it was "unacceptable to play petty politics with human lives as is happening now.”
"Spain wants to sue us, France says I'm disgusting. I want to work serenely with everyone, but with one principle: Italians first," Salvini responded in a tweet.
The diplomatic spat erupted when on Monday, both Italy and Malta blocked access to the overcrowded Aquarius.
The newly-formed Socialist government in Spain offered to take in the ship, with the mayors of cities such as Barcelona and Valencia publicly declaring that their ports were open for the passengers to disembark there.
The Aquarius was on Wednesday sailing for Valencia, escorted by the "Orione" and the "Dattilo," two vessels from the Italian Navy and Coast Guard, respectively.
Between them, they took on board some 500 people from the Aquarius, as the NGO that owns it, SOS Méditerranée, said that it was unsafe for its vessel to undergo the 1,500-kilometer (810-nautical-mile) journey with so many occupants aboard and without assistance.