Gaza Aid Ship Expected To Set Sail From Cyprus

A ship carrying desperately needed humanitarian aid is expected to set sail this weekend, bound for Gaza.

The Spanish vessel, Open Arms, is scheduled to depart from Cyprus – the closest EU country to Gaza – and hope to use a newly opened shipping route.

With no functioning port and shallow waters, it is still unclear where the ship will dock when it reaches Gaza.

The UN says a quarter of the Strip’s population is on the brink of famine and children are starving to death.

The ship, expected to reach Gaza in the next few days, belongs to the Spanish charity of the same name, Open Arms.

It will tow a barge loaded with 200 tonnes of food provided by US charity World Central Kitchen, Open Arms founder Oscar Camps told the Associated Press.

The ship is expected to depart Cyprus’ Larnaca port this weekend and will take around two to three days to reach an undisclosed location off the coast of Gaza, Mr Camps told the news agency.

He added that the final mile of the journey – which is about 216 nautical miles in total – would be “the most complicated operation” but added that he was not “concerned at all about security”.

At the destination point, a team from the World Central Kitchen has been building a pier to receive the aid, he said. The group has 60 kitchens throughout Gaza, where it will be able to distribute the food.

“What initially appeared as an insurmountable challenge is now on the verge of realization,” read a post on Open Arms’ X account.

“Our tugboat stands prepared to embark at a moment’s notice, laden with tons of food, water, and vital supplies for Palestinian civilians.”

World Central Kitchen said it had been preparing for the aid trip for weeks, waiting for the shipping route to open.

The maritime corridor was announced by European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Friday, while she was in Cyprus.

That came a day after President Joe Biden announced that the US plans to build a temporary floating port to Gaza’s shoreline.

The Pentagon later said it would take up to 60 days to complete and need about 1,000 troops to build – none of whom would go ashore.

The port will be able to receive large ships carrying food, water, medicine and temporary shelters, US officials said. Initial shipments will arrive via Cyprus, where Israeli security inspections will take place.

A Pentagon spokesman said the pier could help to deliver up to 2 million meals every day.

It is unclear whether, or how, the US’ temporary pier and the EU’s sea corridor will work together, as neither Mr Biden nor Ms Von der Leyen mentioned the other’s plans.

Getting aid into the Gaza Strip has been increasingly difficult and dangerous – the World Food Programme paused its deliveries to northern Gaza last month, after its convoys endured “complete chaos and violence”, the organisation said.

With land deliveries near impossible, several nations have turned to air drops, but the situation in Gaza is so dire, the drops are an inefficient way of getting supplies to people.

And on Friday there were reports that five people had been killed by a falling aid package, when its parachute failed to open properly.

Israel’s military launched an air and ground campaign in the Gaza Strip after Hamas’s attacks on Israel on 7 October, in which about 1,200 people were killed and 253 others were taken hostage.

More than 30,800 people have been killed in Gaza since then, the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry says.

The conflict has created a growing humanitarian crisis, and the UN has warned that famine in Gaza is “almost inevitable”.

At least 576,000 people across the Gaza Strip – one quarter of the population – are facing catastrophic levels of food insecurity and one in six children under the age of two in the north are suffering from acute malnutrition, a senior UN aid official warned last week.

Save the Children welcomed the recent international efforts to provide more aid into Gaza but said children there “cannot wait” for the time it may take to build a temporary port to eat.

“They are already dying from malnutrition and saving their lives is a matter of hours or days – not weeks,” the charity said in a statement.

Doctors Without Borders said the US plan for a temporary pier was a “glaring distraction from the real problem”, urging Israel to facilitate the flow of supplies.