Cyprus wants 'as many boats as possible' to bring aid to Gaza


Mar 21, 2024. Posted by  Balkan Periscope - Hellas

Cyprus hopes as “many boats as possible” will leave its shores to take aid to Gaza as a second ship waits to depart from Larnaca, Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos said on Thursday.

Momentum is building for more aid to enter the enclave by sea as criticism mounts against Israel for not allowing enough aid to enter Gaza, where the UN says the population is starving.

An official meeting is being held in the Cypriot port city to discuss how to arrange the regular and efficient delivery of humanitarian cargo.

“There are limitations in terms of reception and distribution, and the whole point is not to stock pallets here and wait for [them] to go to Gaza,” Mr Kombos said, responding to a question from The National.

“It’s about a quick turnaround so that we are as efficient as possible.”

Asked how many boats will leave Larnaca for Gaza, Mr Kombos said: “As many as possible.”

Reem Al Hashimy, UAE Minister of State for International Co-operation, was the only other minister attending Thursday's conference, signalling the importance of the Emirates in establishing the maritime corridor.

Also present was the chief of staff for the US National Security Council, Curtis Reid, and UN senior humanitarian and reconstruction co-ordinator for Gaza, Sigrid Kaag.

Representatives of 36 states, including the Group of Seven (G7) countries and Cyprus, as well as the European Commission, UN agencies and NGOs attended the forum in person and online, said Mr Kombos.

This is the first meeting of senior officials regarding the corridor plan, which the Cypriot government has called Amalthea – a Greek goddess who symbolises nurturing.

A first ship operated by NGO Open Arms with 200 tonnes of food from US charity World Central Kitchen arrived in Gaza on Monday.

It is to be followed by another, the Jennifer, which is waiting for favourable weather to set sail from Larnaca port.

The shipment includes pallets of canned goods and bulk product, including beans, carrots, tuna, chickpeas, corn, rice, flour, oil and salt, World Central Kitchen said.

It is also carrying 120kg of fresh dates from the UAE as well as two forklifts and a crane to assist with future maritime deliveries to Gaza, the charity added.

In addition to its crew, the Jennifer will reportedly carry eight workers to operate the machinery and offload the cargo.

David Saari, chief executive of Sea-Lake Shipping Oy, a Finnish company which owned the Jennifer for decades, told The National that the ship can get close to shores in areas without proper ports.

“She is a shallow draft coaster and needs only 3.36 metres of water and as we had her equipped with an excavator, she could also load and discharge her cargo,” he said.

It remains unclear who now owns the Jennifer.

Aid to Gaza a priority

Humanitarian groups have urged Israel to open all land borders to allow urgently needed aid to enter Gaza, a call echoed by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday before his latest tour of the Middle East.

The entire population of 2.3 million people is at severe levels of acute food insecurity, said Mr Blinken.

“That's the first time an entire population has been so classified,” said Mr Blinken. Sustained humanitarian assistance must be “a priority”, he added.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week rebuffed a plea from US President Joe Biden to call off plans for a ground assault of Rafah, the city on the southern tip of Gaza now sheltering more than half the strip's population.

The latest Gaza death toll has risen to about 32,000, with 74,188 injured since the war started in October after a Hamas-led attack killed about 1,200 people in southern Israel.

The forum in Larnaca aims to maximise operational capacity and raise money for a new fund to be set up by Cyprus, the EU, US and UN.

The Netherlands had announced it would contribute €10 million ($10.9 million) to the fund.

The Hague “urges all parties to expand access over land, which is the most effective and efficient way to get large amounts of aid into Gaza”, said Geoffrey van Leeuwen, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Co-operation.

“But until this can be done, we will continue to explore all possible options,” said Mr van Leeuwen, who visited Larnaca on Wednesday.

However, questions about the fund's management remain and its exact structure is still to be arranged, Mr Kombos said.

“It’s about transparency, accountability and efficient use, so we are not in any way dogmatic in how this should be done,” he added.

“There are countries that came out and announced pledges but it’s all about an ongoing process.

“It should be done in a way that keeps the international attention on this project, so that it’s viable not just for now, when you attract international attention, but in the long run.”