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Gaza aid ship prepares to leave Cyprus

 (AP)
(AP)

A ship filled with humanitarian aid intended for Gaza is preparing to leave Cyprus amid ongoing concern about the worsening humanitarian situation.

A US charity said it was loading aid onto a boat in Cyprus in what would be the first shipment to Gaza along a maritime corridor the European Commission hopes will open by Sunday.

The Open Arms, a salvage vessel owned by a Spanish NGO, was moored at a port in the coastal Cyprus town of Larnaca, 210 miles northwest of Gaza.

It will tow a barge with 200 tonnes of food sourced by charity World Central Kitchen (WCK) and mostly funded by the UAE. The timing of its departure from Cyprus was unclear.

Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides, whose administration lobbied for months to establish the corridor, told journalists: "In the next 24 hours the vessel will depart from Larnaca. I can't specify when, for security reasons."

A spokesperson for WCK said the departure would take place "ASAP when all conditions are favourable," without elaborating.

It is an estimated 15-hour journey by sea to Gaza.

It comes as an Israeli strike damaged one of the largest residential towers in Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza on Saturday, according to residents.

Rafah is the last area of the enclave which has not yet seen fighting on the ground and is where over a million displaced Palestinians are sheltering.

The United States has said it plans to build a temporary jetty to bring aid into Gaza, which has no port infrastructure.

It too plans to initially use Cyprus.

Aid agencies have warned of a looming famine five months into Israel's campaign against Hamas.

Most of Gaza's 2.3 million inhabitants are now internally displaced, with severe bottlenecks in aid deliveries at land border checkpoints.

A sea corridor from Cyprus would supplement attempts to boost aid supplies, which have included airdrops of food.

Gaza has been under an Israeli navy blockade since 2007, when Hamas took control of the enclave. There have been few direct sea arrivals since then.