Thursday, April 25

Live updates on Israel-Hamas war: First sea shipment of aid leaves for Gaza

The first sea shipment of food for Gaza left the Mediterranean island of Cyprus on Tuesday morning, officials said, marking the start of an untested maritime corridor to bring aid to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who, according to the United Nations, are on the verge of famine.

The ship was pulling a barge loaded with nearly 200 tons of rice, flour and other foods from World Central Kitchen, a charitable group. The ship, supplied by and named after Spanish humanitarian group Open Arms, is the first authorized to deliver supplies to Gaza by sea since 2005, according to Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Union executive, who supported the project. effort.

“This is a lifeline for civilians,” said Nikos Christodoulides, President of Cyprus. said on social media.

With Gaza under near-total blockade and having suffered more than five months of Israeli bombardment, much of the enclave is at risk of famine, the United Nations has warned. Hunger is particularly severe in the north, where UN agencies have mostly suspended humanitarian operations, citing Israeli restrictions on convoys, security concerns and poor road conditions.

Aid groups say too little aid is reaching Gaza by land. This prompts multinational companies to make efforts to deliver food and essential commodities by sea and air. The United States, Britain, the European Union and other governments announced last week that they would establish a sea corridor to deliver aid to Gaza from Cyprus, and the U.S. military announced its intention to build a floating jetty to facilitate deliveries, as Gaza does not have a functional port.

But U.S. officials have said setting up the floating jetty could take 30 to 60 days, and aid groups and Gaza officials have said sea shipments and airdrops are both cumbersome and cannot be implemented. enough to supply as many trucks. Trucks carrying food to Gaza have been loaded with around 15 to 30 tonnes each, according to figures from the United Nations and other agencies, meaning the amount arriving by sea is far less than that entering Gaza by land in a single day.

About 100 trucks carrying food and other supplies entered Gaza each day in February, on average, via the two open land routes. But this is only a fraction of what was done overland before the war began in October.

Israel has insisted on inspecting shipments to Gaza and argued that aid intended for civilians could be diverted by Hamas, but it says it does not limit the amount of aid coming in. The Israeli government has said it supports the maritime corridor on the condition that shipments are inspected in Cyprus “in accordance with Israeli standards”.

Ms von der Leyen told reporters in the Cypriot port of Larnaca last week that the first maritime expedition was “a pilot project” and that others would soon follow.

It remains unclear how World Central Kitchen’s cargo would be unloaded and distributed once the ship reached the shores of Gaza, a journey of approximately 240 miles from Cyprus. The group’s founder, José Andrés, a famous Spanish-American chef, said over the weekend that he had started building a pier in Gaza to receive the aid, but the group did not say where the structure was located. .

Construction of the pier was “well advanced”, Mr Andrés said said Tuesday on social networks. “We may fail, but the greatest failure will be not trying!” »

The usual sailing time between Cyprus and Gaza is 15 to 17 hours, officials and humanitarian groups said, but they added that the Open Arms would likely take longer because of its heavy load.

The ship was carrying rice, flour, lentils, dried beans, canned beans, canned tuna, canned beef and canned chicken, the group said. The United Arab Emirates was providing financial and logistical support for the operation, Andrés said.

Since October, Palestinian organizers and cooks working with World Central Kitchen have served more than 34 million meals in Gaza, according to the group. The organization has created 65 community kitchens in the territory, which is run by the Palestinians, and plans to build at least 35 more, Mr. Andrés said. About 350,000 meals are served each day, but Mr. Andrés said he would like to distribute more than a million meals a day.

European officials welcomed the news of the ship’s departure.

“We have worked hand in hand not only with Cyprus, but also with the United Arab Emirates, the United States and the United Kingdom,” von der Leyen told the European court on Tuesday. “When fully operational, this maritime corridor could ensure a sustained, regulated and robust flow of aid to Gaza. »

Niki Kitsantonis reports contributed.