Gaza kept waiting for food shipment with aid ship stuck in Cyprus

Delay to first delivery through new Mediterranean Sea corridor blamed on 'technical reasons'

The rescue vessel Open Arms is docked in Cyprus carrying food aid meant for Gaza. Reuters
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A ship carrying about 200 tonnes of food for Gaza remained docked in a port in Cyprus on Monday, as delays hit the opening of a new sea route.

The vessel loaded with urgently needed items such as rice, flour and beans is the first due to set sail in a sea route arranged by the UAE, the US, the EU, the UK and Cyprus.

Officials had hoped the rescue vessel Open Arms would depart as soon as Sunday, with aid workers saying they were "ready to go".

But it had yet to leave the Cypriot port of Larnaca by Monday afternoon. It was not clear why, with reports in Cyprus blaming unspecified "technical reasons".

Israel says it welcomes the sea route to Gaza as long as the cargo goes through security checks. Cyprus indicated all necessary permits were already in place.

Fears are high that Gaza will slip into famine as Israel's military campaign continues, with hopes of negotiating a Ramadan ceasefire yet to bear fruit.

"What we need right now is to get as much aid as possible to Gaza by air, by sea, by land," said Juan Camilo of World Central Kitchen, a charity involved in the shipment.

"From this side we are ready to go," he said at the port in Larnaca. "We have our team waiting in Gaza to make a distribution."

Italy was separately enlisting two agencies based in Rome, the World Food Programme and the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, in a drive to get more food into Gaza.

A plan known as Food for Gaza, also involving the Red Cross, is aimed at working with agencies on the ground to "facilitate access to food aid", Italian officials said.

“The success of a co-ordinated action on food security for the population of Gaza may in turn pave the way for a political solution to the conflict," said Italy's Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani.

Israel is under huge international pressure to let more aid enter Gaza by land, especially after a flour delivery ended in deadly gunfire by Israeli forces on February 29.

The International Court of Justice heard in the genocide case against Israel brought by South Africa that aid blockages had "brought Gaza to the brink of famine".

Diplomats have said 500 lorries a day should be entering Gaza to meet humanitarian needs. The actual daily number has typically been below 100.

With the land routes blocked, aid providers have turned to airdrops and now to the Mediterranean Sea as alternatives.

The US military has been ordered by President Joe Biden to build a pier in Gaza to receive aid, although that is expected to take several weeks.

In the meantime, aid workers involved in the Cyprus voyage intend to build a temporary jetty using rubble from the buildings destroyed in the war in Gaza.

The shipment includes a barge to be lowered at a Gaza beach, with the Spanish charity Open Arms serving as "logistics and command".

Updated: March 11, 2024, 3:07 PM