Aid ship for Gaza expected to depart Cyprus this weekend

By Thomson Reuters Mar 9, 2024 | 8:29 AM

By Yiannis Kourtoglou and Stamos Prousalis

LARNACA, Cyprus, March 9 (Reuters) – A ship laden with relief supplies for Gaza was preparing to depart Cyprus on Saturday as part of efforts to aid a population on the brink of famine.

The European Commission has said a maritime aid corridor between Cyprus and Gaza could start operating as early as this weekend in a pilot project run by an international charity and financed by the UAE.

The Open Arms, a vessel owned by a Spanish NGO and more accustomed to rescuing migrants at sea, was expected to be deployed in the first mission. It was still at the port of Larnaca in Cyprus on Saturday afternoon, live images from Reuters TV showed, and authorities could not give a precise departure time.

Cyprus lies about 210 miles north-west of Gaza, or about 15 hours sailing time.

Separately, the United States has said it plans to build a temporary jetty to bring aid into Gaza, which has no port infrastructure. It too plans to initially use Cyprus, which is offering a process for screening cargoes which will include Israel officials, removing the need for security checks in Gaza.

Negotiations on a possible ceasefire in Israel’s war against Hamas remain deadlocked.

Pallets of rice, flour and protein were being loaded in Larnaca on Saturday in an operation organised by the World Central Kitchen (WCK) charity and mostly funded by the UAE.

Aid agencies have warned of a looming famine five months into Israel’s campaign against Hamas. Most of Gaza’s 2.3 million inhabitants are now internally displaced, with severe bottlenecks in aid deliveries at land border checkpoints.

A sea corridor from Cyprus will supplement attempts to boost aid supplies, which have included airdrops of food.

The charity WCK has partnered with Spain’s Proactiva Open Arms and is sourcing the food.

“WCK and partners agree more than one ship will be needed and are working towards a constant flow of aid,” it said in a statement, adding that another 500 tonnes of aid was ready to follow the initial shipment.

A spokesperson for WCK said the intention was to sail to Gaza, where WCK and partners were building a jetty. It was not related to the U.S. jetty project.

Gaza has been under an Israeli navy blockade since 2007, when Hamas took control of the enclave. There have been few direct sea arrivals since then. Larnaca port was used by pro-Palestinian activists, who used small sail boats to get into Gaza harbour in 2008.

(Reporting by Michele Kambas. Stamos Prousalis and Yiannis Kourtoglou; writing by Michele Kambas; editing by Giles Elgood)