Israel-Hamas War Live Updates: Ship With Aid for Gaza Leaves Cyprus


The first sea shipment of food for Gaza left the Mediterranean island of Cyprus on Tuesday morning, officials said, the start of an untested maritime corridor to bring aid to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who the United Nations says are on the brink of starvation.

The ship was pulling a barge loaded with about 200 tons of rice, flour and other food from World Central Kitchen, a charity group. The ship, provided by the Spanish aid group Open Arms, is the first authorized to deliver supplies to Gaza by sea since 2005, according to Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Union’s executive arm, which has supported the effort.

“It is a lifeline to civilians,” Nikos Christodoulides, the president of Cyprus, said on social media.

With Gaza under a near-total blockade and more than five months of Israeli bombardment, much of the enclave is at risk of famine, the United Nations has warned. Hunger is especially dire in the north, where U.N. agencies have mostly suspended their aid operations, citing Israeli restrictions on convoys, security issues and poor road conditions.

Aid groups say that too little aid is getting into Gaza by land. That is prompting multinational efforts to deliver food and necessities by sea and air. The United States, Britain, the European Union and other governments said last week that they would establish a maritime corridor to bring aid to Gaza from Cyprus, and the U.S. military has announced plans to build a floating pier to facilitate the deliveries because Gaza does not have a functioning port.

But U.S. officials have said it could take 30 to 60 days to set up the floating pier, and aid groups and Gazan officials have said that sea shipments and airdrops are both cumbersome and cannot come close to supplying as much as trucks. Only about 100 relief trucks entered Gaza each day in February, on average, through the two open land routes, a fraction of what was going in before the war began in October.

Israel has insisted on inspecting shipments into Gaza, arguing that they could be diverted by Hamas, but says it does not restrict how much aid gets in. The Israeli government has said it supports the maritime corridor as long as shipments were inspected in Cyprus “in accordance with Israeli standards.”

Ms. von der Leyen told reporters in the Cypriot port of Larnaca last week that the first sea shipment was “a pilot project,” and that others would soon follow.

It remained unclear how the World Central Kitchen shipment would be unloaded and distributed once the ship reaches the shores of Gaza, a journey of about 240 miles from Cyprus. The group’s founder, José Andrés, the renowned Spanish American chef, said over the weekend that it had started to build a jetty in Gaza to receive the aid, but the group would not specify where the jetty was located.

Construction of the jetty was “well underway,” Mr. Andrés said Tuesday on social media. “We may fail, but the biggest failure will be not trying!”

The usual sailing time between Cyprus and Gaza is 15 to 17 hours, officials and aid groups said, but it could take longer because of the ship’s load and depending on weather conditions.

The ship that left Tuesday was carrying rice, flour, lentils, dry beans, canned beans, canned tuna, canned beef and canned chicken, the group said. The United Arab Emirates was providing financing and logistical support for the operation, Mr. Andrés said.

Since October, organizers and Palestinian cooks working with World Central Kitchen have served more than 34 million meals in Gaza, the group has said. The organization has established 65 community kitchens in the territory that are managed by Palestinians and has plans for at least 35 more, Mr. Andrés said. About 350,000 meals are being served every day, but Mr. Andrés said he would like to distribute more than a million meals a day.

European officials welcomed the news of the ship’s departure.

“We have worked hand in hand not only with Cyprus, but with the United Arab Emirates, the United States, and the United Kingdom,” Ms. von der Leyen told European lawmakers on Tuesday. “When fully operational, this maritime corridor could guarantee a sustained, regulated and robust flow of aid to Gaza.”

Niki Kitsantonis contributed reporting.

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