UAE-supported pilot operation launched from Cyprus to send aid to Gaza by sea

Several European countries, the US and the UAE have teamed up to supplement critically low aid deliveries to the embattled enclave

European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen is visiting Cyprus for talks on a maritime aid corridor from the country to Gaza. AFP
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Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Friday launched a pilot operation to send humanitarian aid to Gaza by sea ahead of the mission's official start this weekend.

The Cyprus-led mission is supported by the EU, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, Greece, the UK, the US, and the UAE.

UAE Minister of State for International Co-operation Reem Al Hashimy told The National: “This is a plan that has been spoken about for months. Its operationalisation, however, was met with so much inertia – there were many variables that were debated, some rightfully so."

She said: “Cyprus really played a commendable leadership role – and we were committed to join them in this effort to help avert famine in the North and more humanitarian suffering in Gaza."

Ms von der Leyen, speaking alongside Mr Christodoulides in Larnaca, said: “I would like to commend the particular effort of the President of the UAE, Sheikh Mohamed, to mobilise support to activate this corridor by securing the first of many shipments of goods to the people of north Gaza.

“We are now very close to the opening of the corridor, hopefully this Sunday, and I’m very glad to see that an initial pilot operation will be launched today.

"It is the partnership that started it today with World Central Kitchen, whom I want to thank wholeheartedly for their tireless and so important work."

The World Central Kitchen NGO said it was working with the UAE and partner the Open Arms Fund to send food to Gaza. Details of the operation have yet to be disclosed, but reports in Israel suggested it would be delivered by hovercraft to a shipping dock controlled by the Israeli army and scheduled to arrive on Sunday.

Gaza's health authorities say about 30,700 people have been killed since October 7. The population in the northern part of the enclave is facing starvation because Israel is blocking the entry of humanitarian aid, according to NGOs. The UN says that one in six children aged under two in the north has acute malnutrition, which has caused the death of at least 15 children.

"What is unfolding before our eyes is a humanitarian tragedy," Mr Christodoulides said. "The Cyprus maritime corridor aims at scaling up aid by complementing other routes that include the Rafah crossing point from Egypt and air drops from Jordan. It is also clear that we are at a point where we simply have to unlock all possible routes."

The commission, the EU's executive arm, has so far sent 1,800 tonnes of aid on 41 flights to Al Arish airport in Egypt, where the aid is then transferred by the Egyptian Red Crescent to the Palestinian Red Crescent. The commission is also looking into air drops – conducted in the past weeks by several countries with Jordanian support – which would be a first for the institution.

"We will consider all other options including air drops if our humanitarian partners on the ground consider this effective," Ms von der Leyen said.

The UK's Foreign Secretary David Cameron confirmed that his country would be involved in the maritime corridor to deliver aid to Gaza. "We continue to urge Israel to allow more trucks into Gaza as the fastest way to get aid to those who need it," Mr Cameron wrote on X.

In his State of the Union speech on Thursday, US President Joe Biden said the US military would build a temporary port on Gaza's Mediterranean coast to receive humanitarian aid by sea.

Joe Biden announces plan for aid pier in Gaza

Joe Biden announces plan for aid pier in Gaza

The US interest in alternative routes was triggered last week by the so-called “flour massacre", in which at least 112 people were killed in northern Gaza when they tried to collect aid from lorries under the supervision of the Israeli army. Local doctors said victims sustained gunshot wounds from Israeli soldiers but the military said most people died as a result of a stampede.

The EU's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, who is widely viewed as more critical of Israel than Ms von der Leyen, said on X that sea corridors would "take time" while airdrops were "good but insufficient".

"All those concerned about the situation in Gaza should put pressure on the Israeli government to grant unimpeded humanitarian land access and not blocking convoys," he said.

Updated: March 14, 2024, 10:17 AM