Cyprus to raise funds to boost maritime corridor to Gaza

US jetty under construction on Gaza shore may be ready sooner than anticipated, says Cypriot Foreign Minister

Food packages from the charity World Central Kitchen are unloaded on the Gaza shore on Saturday. AP
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Cyprus will host a meeting on Thursday to increase the operational capacity of a new maritime corridor to send aid to Gaza, Cypriot Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos said.

The news comes as a second ship, operated by the US charity World Central Kitchen and funded by the UAE, prepares to leave Cyprus with 240 tonnes of aid.

More than 40 countries are expected to attend the meeting, which will include discussions on long-term funding of the corridor, Mr Kombos told reporters on Monday as he arrived at a meeting with his EU counterparts in Brussels.

"We now see a growing international humanitarian coalition and for that we are extremely pleased," said Mr Kombos.

A first ship carrying 200 tonnes of aid from World Central Kitchen, with UAE funding, arrived in Gaza from Larnaca on Monday and has been "safely distributed", said Mr Kombos. "A second larger shipment is ready to depart as we speak."

World Central Kitchen told The National that “all humanitarian food aid was offloaded and is currently in a WCK warehouse in Gaza being readied for distribution”. The charity operates a number of food kitchens throughout Gaza via a local network and stressed that it had also contributed significantly to aid delivered by land and air, in addition to the maritime route, distributing 37 million meals to Gaza.

The arrival of the first ship signalled the first time Israel has been willing to lift its maritime siege on the enclave since Hamas came to power in 2007, according to Mr Kombos.

"Israel has lifted the naval blockade of Gaza exclusively for the Amalthea plan," he said.

"Cyprus has been working on this for a long time and the support from the US and the UAE has been instrumental for the materialisation of this project," he added.

The next steps include scaling up capacity and the establishment of a fund to finance more ships carrying aid to Gaza.

Israel inspects the aid beforehand in Cyprus to ensure that "the cargo is sterile", said Mr Kombos.

"This is going to be a project for the long run and needs to be financed properly in a secure way with accountability," said Mr Kombos.

The US has said that a mini-port that its army is building in Gaza to receive aid will be operational in early May, but Mr Kombos said it may happen sooner than anticipated.

"The completion of the construction is going to be closer in terms of time to now rather than what was perhaps originally envisioned," he said.

International pressure is increasing on Israel to allow aid into Gaza, where the risk of famine is rising in the north of the enclave and more than 23 children have starved to death, the International Rescue Committee reported.

The entire population of Gaza is facing crisis levels of food insecurity, the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification report showed.

About 1.1 million people in Gaza – half of the population – have exhausted their food supplies and face starvation, the report says. This is the highest number of people reported by the IPC system to be at risk of catastrophic hunger. The tally has doubled in three months.

In the besieged enclave’s two northern governorates, where about 300,000 people remain trapped, famine is expected to take hold between now and May.

Rafah fears

But such pressure has done little to change Israeli plans in Gaza, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu having said on Friday that he had approved plans to attack Rafah, where most of the population of the Gaza Strip has sought refuge.

Also speaking ahead of the meeting, the EU’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said Gaza had become “the greatest open-air graveyard – a graveyard for tens of thousands of people and also a graveyard for many of the most important principles of humanitarian law".

“On the Egyptian side of the border there is food for months accumulated ... while on the other side of the border people are dying of hunger,” said Mr Borrell, who has repeatedly accused Israel of using famine as a weapon of war in Gaza.

Latest figures given by local authorities in Gaza say that 31,726 people have died in Gaza since October, and 73,792 have been injured. The Israeli military operation started after a Hamas-led attack that killed around 1,200 people.

Israel's foreign minister Israel Katz pushed back against Mr Borrell's criticism on X. "Israel allows extensive humanitarian aid into Gaza by land, air, and sea for anyone willing to help," said Mr Katz.

"Despite Hamas violently disrupting aid convoys and UNRWA collaboration with them, we persist. It's time for EU Foreign Minister Josep Borrell to stop attacking Israel and recognise our right to self-defence against Hamas' crimes."

Public opinion in Europe and in the US on the Gaza war is shifting to more empathy for Palestinians, said Mr Borrell.

The EU remains deeply divided over the Israel-Palestine conflict, with some countries blocking sanctions on extremist Israeli settlers in the West Bank until last week despite Israeli allies including the US implementing such sanctions weeks ago.

Mr Borrell pointed to a recent speech by US senator Chuck Schumer, the highest-ranking Jewish member of Congress, who said the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu “has lost his way” and suggested his government's actions on Gaza have turned Israel into a “pariah opposed by the rest of the world”.

Mr Borrell said the hunger in Gaza required action from the EU's member states, "not us just expressing concern but taking decisions".

At Mr Borrell's initiative, ministers are expected to discuss a Spanish and Irish request to review the bloc's trade agreement with Israel due to concerns over human rights violations in Gaza.

But some countries said it was unlikely to move forward. "I don’t believe there will be any far-reaching decisions made today," said Lithuania's Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis.

Additional reporting by Robert Tollast

Updated: March 18, 2024, 1:39 PM