Cyprus-Gaza maritime aid corridor to open this weekend, with EU and US support

Cyprus-Gaza maritime aid corridor to open this weekend, with EU and US support
Cyprus-Gaza maritime aid corridor to open this weekend, with EU and US support

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - BRUSSELS — The European Union is backing a long-awaited maritime corridor allowing aid to be shipped from Cyprus to the coast of Gaza, European Commission Ursula von der Leyen confirmed during a visit to the port of Larnaca on Friday.

The Cyprus-led initiative, named ‘Amalthea’, is backed by Western and Arab partners including the United States, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates.

It will allow a surge in humanitarian aid deliveries, which have been severely constricted by the land routes controlled by Israel since the outbreak of the war. It comes as leaders warn of a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, where parts of the population are facing starvation.

Speaking in Larnaca, on the south coast of Cyprus, von der Leyen said that the EU executive could also consider further options, including the parachuting of humanitarian cargo into Gaza, following the US's lead. The bloc has already pledged €250 million in aid to Palestinians this year.

"The maritime corridor can make a real difference to the plight of the Palestinian people, but in parallel, our efforts to provide humanitarian assistance through all possible routes will continue," the Commission president said in a joint press conference with Cyprus' president Nikos Christodoulides.

The sea corridor is due to formally open this weekend, with a first pilot operation to leave either on Saturday or Sunday, when the right conditions are in place. That pilot will be part of a partnership with US-based charity World Central Kitchen, founded by celebrity chef José Andrés, which provides food to crisis-ridden populations, von der Leyen said.

It comes just hours after President Biden confirmed in his annual State of the Union speech that the US military would lead an "emergency mission" to establish a "temporary pier" on the Gaza coast to ramp up the delivery of life-saving aid.

Biden said there would be "no US boots on the ground" as part of the construction of the port, but it does represent a crucial shift in his administration's intervention in the Gaza crisis.

The port could be operational in three weeks' time, Cypriot sources say.

Plans to open a maritime corridor into Gaza were first made public by French President Emmanuel Macron following the European Council summit in late October.

But a senior Cypriot diplomat told Euronews that the plan did not materialise until the US intervened, using their diplomatic weight to convince Israel to allow the Gazan coast to be used for humanitarian purposes.

In his speech on Thursday evening, Biden censored Israeli leadership for restricting the flow of aid and failing to safeguard humanitarian workers, many of whom have in recent weeks been forced to suspend aid deliveries in northern Gaza due to the chaos wrought as hungry Palestinians try to reach aid convoys.

"To the leadership of Israel I say this: humanitarian assistance cannot be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip," the US president said.

The initial proposal for a sea corridor, championed by Cypriot president Nikos Christodoulides and pitched to EU leaders in Brussels as far back as October, stalled due to the absence of a functioning port on the 40 kilometre-long coast of Gaza.

Cyprus lies in the Mediterranean Sea some 400km northwards of Gaza. Von der Leyen said that the island nation's critical role in mediating the deal demonstrated its "historical role" as a "bridge between Europe and the Middle East."

A UK-operated ship capable of offloading cargo without the need for a physical port could be used as part of the corridor, if more aid cargo becomes available, according to the senior Cypriot diplomat.

The floating maritime pier could then allow more aid to be delivered at pace.

The presence of British Forces on the Mediterranean island is considered an advantage to coordinate the shipments.

Since the outbreak of its war against Hamas, Israel has demanded that all cargo entering Gaza be checked to ensure no material that could be repurposed for military purposes by Hamas enters the enclave.

Israel has approved the control mechanisms organised by Cyprus, according to diplomatic sources, who added that they would be open to further Israeli monitoring of aid.

The move signals increasing pressure on Israel to prevent the humanitarian crisis in Gaza from deepening further.

UK's foreign minister David Cameron joined Biden's call for Israel to allow more aid to reach Gazans in need via land.

"We will continue to work with Israel to expand deliveries by land, insisting that it facilitate more routes and open additional crossings to get more aid to more people," a joint statement.

Von der Leyen, considered a staunch ally of Israel, did not join the criticism: "We know the difficulties faced at the land borders in Gaza, be it through the Rafah border crossing, or through the Jordan road corridor," she said.

The UN coordinator for Gaza Sigrid Kaag warned on Thursday that aid deliveries by sea and air cannot be a substitute for land deliveries.

"It's easier, it's faster, it's cheaper, particularly if we know that we need to sustain humanitarian assistance to Gazans for a long period of time," she said, referring to aid deliveries by truck convoys. — Euronews

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