Spanish ship en route to Gaza with desperately needed aid

AFP , Wednesday 13 Mar 2024

A Spanish aid boat was en route to Gaza on Wednesday, opening a new maritime corridor intended to allow deliveries of desperately needed food to the Palestinian territory ravaged by months of Israeli war, as Israel persists in blocking land routes.

The Open Arms vessel (C) is pictured in the Cypriot port of Larnaca on March 11, 2024.
The Open Arms vessel (C) is pictured in the Cypriot port of Larnaca on March 11, 2024. AFP


In a sign of worsening humanitarian conditions, 27 people have died of malnutrition and dehydration, most of them children, according to the latest toll from Gaza.

Fresh Israeli bombardments could be heard in southern Gaza, an AFP journalist said early Wednesday, and the health ministry reported another 70 Palestinians killed in overnight strikes.

With land shipments into the territory severely curtailed by Israel, the international community has sought to diversify routes for delivering aid, including via air drops and the new Cyprus maritime corridor.

The Open Arms ship that left the port of Larnaca on Tuesday is towing 200 tonnes of relief goods roughly 400 kilometres (250 miles) across the Mediterranean to Gaza, with US charity World Central Kitchen saying work was "underway" on a jetty to unload the shipment.

Cyprus said a second vessel was also being prepared.

Gaza has experienced dire shortages of food and other essentials since Israel imposed a siege at the outset of the war, and prices have shot up for what food there is.

"Today, there are many things in the market that are not available; even if they are available, they are at astronomical prices," said dentist and Gaza City resident Baher Hassouna, one of the 1.5 million Gazans displaced to the southern border city of Rafah.

Four US Army vessels also departed a base in Virginia on Tuesday carrying about 100 soldiers and equipment needed to build a temporary port on Gaza's coast to facilitate aid shipments.

The new facility -- which will consist of an offshore platform and a pier to bring aid ashore -- is expected to be up and running "at the 60-day mark", US Army Brigadier General Brad Hinson told journalists.

Aid groups have been warning of the risk of famine in besieged Gaza for weeks, and the United Nations has reported particular difficulty in accessing the territory's north for deliveries of food and other humanitarian supplies.


'Brink of famine'

The UN aid coordinator for Gaza, Sigrid Kaag, and head of the United Nations Office for Project Services, Jorge Moreira da Silva, said in a joint statement they "welcome the opening of a maritime corridor" while cautioning it may not be enough.

"For aid delivery at scale there is no meaningful substitute to the many land routes and entry points from Israel into Gaza," they said.

The Israeli occupation army on Tuesday night announced a pilot project for delivering aid directly into the north, saying six World Food Programme (WFP) aid trucks had entered through a new crossing.

Israel has maintained strict control over supplies entering the Gaza Strip, and aid workers have blamed cumbersome screenings for the severity of the current shortages.

Without specifically mentioning the new overland route, the WFP wrote on social media platform X that it had "delivered enough food only for 25,000 people to Gaza City early Tuesday in (the) first successful convoy to the north since 20 February".

"With people in northern #Gaza on the brink of famine, we need deliveries every day," it added.

Morocco, meanwhile, sent a plane loaded with 40 tonnes of relief supplies directly to Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, a diplomatic source said, a bid to bypass bottlenecks on the Egypt-Gaza border.


'War on children'

Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, called on Tuesday for an immediate ceasefire, labelling the war "a war on children".

In a post on X, Lazzarini cited UN the death figures that indicate more children have been killed in Gaza between October and February "than the number of children killed in four years of wars around the world combined".

European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell, meanwhile, told the UN Security Council that "starvation is being used as a war arm".

"This humanitarian crisis... is manmade," he said.

Israel's bombardment and ground offensive have killed 31,184 Palestinians in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry.

Weeks of talks involving US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators failed to bring about a truce and hostage exchange deal ahead of Ramadan.

Qatari foreign ministry spokesman Majed al-Ansari said that, although talks between the parties continued, "we are not near a deal".


Full withdrawal

Hamas has demanded a full withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again vowed to push on with the war.

In a speech delivered via video link to a pro-Israel lobby in the United States, he again pledged to "destroy Hamas".

"We will finish the job in Rafah while enabling the civilian population to get out of harm's way," he said.

The war in Gaza has also brought a surge in violence in the occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, where a 12-year-old boy was shot dead by Israeli border police during the occupation incursion at a refugee camp on Tuesday.

During the night, another two Palestinians aged 16 and 23 were also shot to death by Israeli forces at al-Jib, near Jerusalem, the Palestine Red Crescent said.

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