Aid for Gaza still leaving Cyprus by sea while landing pier fixed, Cypriot official says

U.S. flagged cargo vessel carrying aid to a pier built by the U.S. off Gaza sets sail from Larnaca

NICOSIA (Reuters) -Humanitarian aid for Gaza is continuing to leave Cyprus by sea and will be held in floating storage off the coast of the enclave until a U.S.-built military pier undergoes repairs, a Cypriot government official said on Thursday.

Malnutrition is widespread in Gaza after almost eight months of war and the U.N. said on Wednesday the amount of aid entering the enclave had fallen by two-thirds since Israel began military operations in the enclave's southern Rafah region this month.

The U.S. military announced earlier in the week that a purpose-built jetty it anchored off Gaza's coast to receive aid by sea was being temporarily removed after part of the structure broke off, two weeks after it started operating.

Cyprus government spokesperson Konstantinos Letymbiotis said the offloading of aid for the Palestinian enclave - devastated by Israel's air and ground war against its ruling Hamas group - had slowed down but the sea corridor had not ceased operating.

"The mechanism surrounding how the floating pier works allows for the possibility of floating storage off Gaza, with offloading to resume when conditions allow," Letymbiotis said, blaming the problem on rough seas.

The pier was announced by U.S. President Joe Biden in March

and involved the military assembling the floating structure off

the Palestinian enclave's Mediterranean coast. Estimated to cost $320 million for the first 90 days and involving about 1,000 U.S. service members, it went into operation two weeks ago.

Aid from France was expected to depart for Gaza from Cyprus on Thursday, while 3,000 tons of U.S. aid will leave early next week, Letymbiotis said.

The United Arab Emirates, Britain, the U.S., Romania, Italy, the European Mechanism for Civil Protection, the World Food Programme and the International Organization for Migration have already donated aid destined for the pier, he said.

Cyprus had also received interest from Japan and Singapore, as well as other EU member states.

In Washington, a Pentagon spokesperson said a portion of the pier had separated and it would be towed to the Israeli port of Ashdod for repairs. Letymbiotis said the U.S. had indicated that the problem would be fixed in coming days and that the pier could "possibly" resume operations by the middle of next week.

Eleven ship-shuttles of aid have left Cyprus since the operation started, with enough already distributed in Gaza to "provide food to tens of thousands of non-combatants for a month", Letymbiotis said.

"The aim of offering humanitarian aid to 500,000 people a month is possible."

(Reporting by Michele Kambas; editing by Toby Chopra and Mark Heinrich)