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Cyprus-Gaza maritime aid corridor to open before Ramadan on Sunday

The EU push to open the corridor in Cyprus coincides with the US announcement that it will build a temporary port off Gaza’s coast to deliver aid.
In this image grab from an AFPTV video, people watch as a US aircraft carrying food parcels flies above a beach in the Gaza Strip before dropping the humanitarian aid attached to parachutes, on March 2, 2024. Israel's top ally the United States said it began air-dropping aid into war-ravaged Gaza on March 2, as the Hamas-ruled territory's health ministry reported more than a dozen child malnutrition deaths. (Photo by AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)

BEIRUT — European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen met on Friday in Nicosia with Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides to discuss preparations to establish a maritime corridor for international aid to the Gaza Strip.

According to Cypriot news outlets, the two officials also visited the port of Larnaca in southern Cyprus, from where aid shipments are expected to depart for Gaza, to inspect facilities there.

Speaking at a joint press conference in Larnaca following the visit to the port facilities, Von der Leyen said the corridor between Cyprus and Gaza is expected to start operating this weekend.

“The Republic of Cyprus, the European Commission, the United Arab Emirates and the United States ... supported by other critical partners, announce our intent to open the maritime corridor to deliver much-needed additional amounts of humanitarian assistance by sea,” Von der Leyen said.

The top European diplomat added that a pilot operation will be launched later on Friday.

“The maritime corridor can make a real difference to the plight of the Palestinian people,” Von der Leyen said. “The humanitarian situation in Gaza is dire with innocent Palestinian families and children desperate for basic needs. And today we are facing a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza and we stand by the innocent civilians in Palestine.”

She further praised Cyprus for the initiative to establish the corridor.

In a joint statement released shortly after Von der Leyen’s remarks, the European Commission, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Republic of Cyprus, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States said they will work in coordination with UN Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator for Gaza Sigrid Kaag to ensure the flow of aid.

The statement also mentioned the US’ emergency mission to build a port off Gaza’s coast for the delivery of aid and said all efforts will be closely coordinated with Israel.

For its part, Israel welcomed the opening of the maritime corridor.

“The Cypriot initiative will allow the increase of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, after a security check according to Israeli standards,” the spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Lior Haiat, wrote on X.

He stressed that his country will continue to “facilitate the transfer of humanitarian aid to Gaza residents, in accordance with the laws of war and in coordination with the US and our allies in the world.”

Alternative routes for Gaza-bound aid

Cyprus first proposed the idea of a sea corridor during the International Aid Conference in Paris in November. The plan, called the Amalthea Initiative, includes five stages. First the aid, including food, medical, and shelter supplies, will be transported and collected in Larnaca. The second stage involves the inspection of the shipments by a joint committee including Israel. The goods will then be loaded onto ships, which will use a secure sea corridor escorted by warships. The fifth and final stage involves the unloading and distribution of aid in Gaza.

A single ship can carry 500 times more aid than trucks.

Since the Israel-Hamas war erupted Oct. 7, the only aid route into Gaza has been through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

Israel has been accused of impeding access to aid and blocking its distribution across the enclave, particularly in the north. Israel denies the accusations, blaming instead humanitarian organizations for failing to efficiently distribute the aid.

Around 150 trucks carrying aid are currently entering Gaza on a daily basis, according to the UN.

World Food Programme Deputy Executive Director Carl Skau told Reuters that the number of trucks must at least double amid warnings of widespread famine in Gaza.

The limited aid has prompted several countries to seek other routes to deliver badly needed assistance. Jordan, the UAE, Egypt and the United States have airdropped several batches of humanitarian aid in northern Gaza.

The opening of the Cyprus-Gaza sea corridor comes one day after President Joe Biden announced a US plan to build a temporary port off Gaza's coast to deliver urgent humanitarian assistance to Gaza.

In his State of the Union address on Thursday, Biden called on Israel to ease the unfolding humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.

“To the leadership of Israel I say this: Humanitarian assistance cannot be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip,” Biden said.

The operation will also be based in Cyprus’ Larnaca, where aid deliveries will undergo security inspections before being shipped to the port. The building of the port is expected to take weeks.