Cyprus says aims to get 'as many boats as possible' on aid route to Gaza

AFP , Thursday 21 Mar 2024

Cyprus hosted a meeting Thursday aimed at sending "as many boats as possible" carrying aid to the Gaza Strip along a maritime corridor, Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos said.

 Constantinos Kombos
Cyprus Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos addresses media ahead of a Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) meeting at the EU headquarters in Brussels, on March 18, 2024. AFP


Representatives of 36 countries, United Nations agencies, and humanitarian groups participated in the meeting in the Cypriot port of Larnaca, where a first aid vessel embarked earlier this month and a second ship was waiting to depart.

The charity-run Open Arms made the maiden trip across the Mediterranean, pulling a barge loaded with 200 tonnes of desperately needed food aid. It reached besieged Gaza on Friday.

With insufficient aid trucks entering by road more than five months into the Israeli war on Gaza, efforts have multiplied to get relief into the long-blockaded territory by air and sea, though humanitarian officials insist overland access is the most effective way.

Thursday's meeting in Cyprus, the nearest European Union member country to Gaza, was aimed at securing funding for the maritime aid corridor and examining "how we can max up our operational capacity", Kombos said.

He noted that G7 member states, the European Union, and the United Nations were willing to contribute toward the relief operation, and stressed the "very important" participation of aid agencies and charities.

The meeting, which Israeli officials also attended, "is about integrating all the states and entities that are participating to have a synchronized pace for our actions", said Kombos.

The aim was to get "as many boats as possible" to leave for Gaza, "utilizing and leveraging... our geographical position in the area," the Cypriot top diplomat said.

He added there were "limitations in terms of the reception and distribution", but said there were no plans for infrastructure projects on the ground in Gaza.

US aid group World Central Kitchen, which partnered with the Spanish Open Arms in the first delivery, built a makeshift jetty southwest of Gaza City to receive the shipment, and the US military plans to build a larger pier.

A second ship, the "Jennifer", has been waiting for the weather to clear before it can set sail from Larnaca, Kombos said.

Israel's campaign on Gaza has killed at least 31,988 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in Gaza.

A UN-backed food security assessment has determined that roughly half of Gazans -- around 1.1 million people -- are experiencing "catastrophic" levels of hunger, with conditions particularly acute in the territory's north.

The United Nations human rights chief Volker Turk said Israeli restrictions on aid could amount to using starvation as a "weapon of war", a claim dismissed by Israel.

Short link: