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Gaza aid ship sets sail from Cyprus through new relief sea corridor

Gaza aid ship sets sail from Cyprus through new relief sea corridor

A ship with aid for Gaza has set sail from Cyprus through a safe sea corridor to the occupied territory.

The vessel is “carrying the first equipment to establish a temporary pier to deliver vital humanitarian supplies”, the US Central Command (Centcom) said in a statement early on Sunday.

The US Army Vessel (USAV) General Frank S Besson (LSV-1) departed the joint base Langley-Eustisa military facility in Virginia – to the Eastern Mediterranean to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza by sea, Centcom said.

It said the vessel left “less than 36 hours after president Biden announced the US would provide humanitarian assistance to Gaza by sea”.

The announcement comes days after Mr Biden vowed to build a temporary pier to supply Gaza.

Since Gaza has no port infrastructure, the US would initially use Cyprus, which is offering a process for screening cargo that will include Israeli officials.

The US, UK, and other allies rallied to create the maritime corridor amid mounting concerns about the level of aid getting into besieged Gaza, which is facing widespread hunger some five months after the 7 October attack by Hamas.

It comes after 100 people were killed while scrambling to find food for their families when crowds descended on a convoy of lorries on the coastal road southwest of Gaza City.

Israel said tanks present at the time fired warning shots but did not strike the lorries, adding that many of those killed were run over or trampled. Hamas rejected the account, claiming there was “undeniable” evidence of directing firing at citizens. Doctors at a nearby hospital said 80 per cent of the victims it treated after the massacre had gunshot wounds.

Lord David Cameron, the UK foreign secretary, described the deaths as “horrific” and called for an immediate investigation and “accountability”.

The ‘Open Arms’ docked in Larnaca on Saturday (Proactiva Open Arms/AFP)
The ‘Open Arms’ docked in Larnaca on Saturday (Proactiva Open Arms/AFP)

Earlier this week he confirmed that the UK would join the US in creating the sea corridor, with Washington troops also set to create a temporary port on the Gaza coast.

Last week, following the deaths during the convoy incident, the US dropped food in pallets over Gaza. Three planes from Air Forces Central dropped 66 bundles containing about 38,000 meals into the territory.

The European Commission said on Friday that the sea route could start operating as early as this weekend. Images on Saturday afternoon showed the vessel, named the Open Arms, remained docked at the port of Larnaca in Cyprus on Saturday.

It was expected to set sail before Sunday, although officials were unable to give a precise time for its departure. Cyprus lies about 210 miles northwest of Gaza, or about 15 hours sailing time.

The vessel belongs to a Spanish aid organisation of the same name and will deliver food aid from World Central Kitchen, a US charity founded by celebrity chef Jose Andres.

Palestinians wait for humanitarian aid on a beachfront in Gaza (AP)
Palestinians wait for humanitarian aid on a beachfront in Gaza (AP)

In the absence of a port, Open Arms founder Oscar Camps said the ship would arrive at an undisclosed location where the group World Central Kitchen is constructing a pier to receive it.

The ship will pull a barge loaded with 200 tons of rice and flour close to the Gaza shore, he added.. Pontoon boats will then be used for the complicated final leg to tow the barge up to the pier.

Mr Camps said his group had been planning the delivery for two months, long before the EU declared the launch of the safe corridor. He said he’s not as concerned about the security of the ship as “about the security and lives of the people who are in Gaza”.

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. Larnaca port was used by pro-Palestinian activists, who used small sail boats to get into Gaza harbour in 2008.

Negotiations on a possible ceasefire in Israel’s war against Hamas, meanwhile remain deadlocked.

The United Nations in February warned that at least one quarter of Gaza’s population – 576,000 people - is one step away from famine and virtually the entire population desperately needs food.

Meanwhile, the head of the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA said he was cautiously optimistic more donors would start funding it again within weeks, warning it was “at risk of death” after Israel alleged some of its staff took part in the 7 October attack.

An independent review of UNRWA has been launched under French former foreign minister Catherine Colonna, and her final report is expected to be published next month. Canada and Sweden have said they were resuming their funding of the agency.