Maritime corridor for Gaza 'no substitute for land aid'

Death toll would be lower if Israel respected international humanitarian law, says EU commissioner

Food rations provided by US charity World Central Kitchen at a makeshift street market in Rafah, the southern Gaza Strip. AFP
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The maritime corridor set up last week to bring food aid to Gaza from Cyprus is in no way a substitute for deliveries by lorry that cannot enter because Israel is blocking land routes, the EU’s Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic said on Thursday.

Mr Lenarcic, a Slovenian politician, said the sea passage had been set up “exclusively because Israel is not opening more land routes”.

“The easiest way, the most efficient way, is for Israel to open additional land crossing points,” said Mr Lenarcic in Brussels, having recently visited Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan.

“This corridor, although a welcome addition, can only complement the land routes. You cannot the in current circumstances provide sufficient supplies by maritime routes or airdrops because there is no real port" in the Gaza Strip.

The Pentagon this week sent military ships from the US East Coast to the Mediterranean, where US troops will help to build a temporary pier and dock to deliver more aid.

The pier will be an upgrade of the jetty that is currently under construction by World Central Kitchen, a US charity run by the famous Spanish-American chef Jose Andres, said Mr Lenarcic.

But aid sent by sea is incomparably lower in number than by land, he added, calling for 500 lorries of aid – the equivalent of roughly 10,000 tonnes – to enter Gaza every day.

Ships using the new route are expected to carry "thousands of tonnes of supplies" a week, he said.

"After Americans do their temporary port, there will probably be greater capacity. But again, one truck is 20 tonnes of humanitarian cargo or more. This barge is bringing 10 truckloads approximately ... this gives you the perspective."

“What is needed to stave off the looming famine is an immediate surge in humanitarian aid, coupled with an end of fighting."

The UN last month said there were "pockets of famine" in northern Gaza, where about 300,000 people still live despite most of the population of 2.3 million having fled south due to the fighting.

World Central Kitchen has teamed up with the UAE in organising a first shipment of about 200 tonnes of food that departed the Cypriot port of Larnaca on Monday and is scheduled to arrive in northern Gaza on Tuesday.

The UAE has said it is important that food aid arrives in Gaza to avert famine, in particular during Ramadan which started this week.

Mr Lenarcic said the next ship would carry "a larger cargo" but did not provide further details.

The port of Ashdod represents the best option for humanitarian aid to arrive to Gaza by sea, Mr Lenarcic said on Wednesday in a joint statement with foreign ministers from countries involved in the maritime corridor, including the US and the UAE, as well as UN Gaza co-ordinator Sigrid Kaag.

"The ministers underscored the need for Israel to open additional crossings so more aid can reach Gaza, including the north, and to ease overall customs restrictions to facilitate an increased flow of life-saving humanitarian assistance," said the statement, also signed by Qatar.

The President of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, travelled to Cyprus on Friday to launch the maritime corridor to Gaza with Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides. A number of EU countries including Germany and the Netherlands at the time stated their intention to support the establishment of the corridor.

But there has been little information since on how this would move forward. "Every aid package that arrives in Gaza counts," the German embassy in Abu Dhabi told The National. "That is why Germany is participating in the maritime corridor to Gaza – to implement the corridor, we are in constant contact with our partners, especially Cyprus, the United Arab Emirates, the USA and the EU Commission."

"Far too little help is coming to Gaza overland," an embassy representative said. "That needs to change. Germany has emphasised this again and again in the last few weeks. The Israeli government must finally open more border crossings for humanitarian deliveries and ensure that this aid arrives. That is their responsibility."

Mr Lenarcic said he "noted with considerable hope" that the UN had declared one of its convoys had reached northern Gaza by land for the first time since February 20. "It is our hope and expectation that this route will be expanded to allow a surge in humanitarian aid," he said.

Mr Lenarcic said if Israel had fully respected international humanitarian law in Gaza, the number of dead civilians would not be as high – more than 31,300 killed and 73,134 injured since its military operation started.

The UN on Tuesday said more than 12,300 children had been killed in Gaza in four months. That is more than in four years of war worldwide.

Mr Lenarcic added: "The fact is that the situation at the moment is not acceptable with regard to the continued and rising death toll among Gaza civilians. It’s not satisfactory by far, with regard to the provision of humanitarian aid."

Updated: March 14, 2024, 6:52 PM