Spanish charity Open Arms vows more Gaza food aid, appeals to others to step up

By Horaci Garcia

MADRID (Reuters) - The director of Spanish charity Proactiva Open Arms that delivered 200 tonnes of food aid to Gaza this week said he is determined to keep the deliveries going despite the significant danger to his team from the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

He also urged other "more powerful, wealthy states and organisations" to do the same using a new maritime corridor from Cyprus to the stricken enclave.

Oscar Camps, who was onboard the salvage vessel that left Cyprus on March 12 for a 200-mile (320 kilometre) voyage across the eastern Mediterranean to Gaza, described the perilous sea conditions that complicated the delivery to a makeshift jetty, and the significant danger to delivery teams on land.

Camps said it took seven hours to move a barge roped to the ship to a jetty made from destroyed buildings and rubble for it to be unloaded in rough seas.

His team had been warned by Israel it could not guarantee their security, he said, and those unloading aid onto land were within "hundreds, tens, of metres" of bombardments.

"People are eating grass there and they are bombing as you disembark food," he told Reuters in Badalona, a city north of Barcelona on the Spanish coast. "The war doesn't stop, everything is rumbling, you're surrounded by smoke and dust, you see the tanks moving back and fourth."

Camps said Israel's foreign ministry opened the maritime route from Cyprus to Gaza on Dec. 20. "The thing is that no one used it," he added.

Jose Andres, founder of the World Central Kitchen that supplied the food carried by Open Arms, suggested they attempt a delivery, Camps said.

On Tuesday, Andres confirmed in a social media post that the equivalent of 500,000 meals had been delivered to northern Gaza.

Now, they are determined to send larger shipments of up to 500 tonnes on a second, third and fourth boat, Camps said. "It is not easy, but it is not impossible either."

Open Arms is 90% funded by civil society donations, said Camps, a former lifeguard from Catalonia whose charity was started to save migrants at sea.

He called his current operation a "band aid" he hoped would spark more ambitious endeavours, appealing to wealthier nations and organisations to use the same sea route, and to Israel to order ceasefires when aid was being delivered.

A U.N.-backed report on Monday said famine was "imminent" in the northern Gaza Strip, where some 300,000 people are trapped by fighting that began after an Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas militants prompted an Israeli invasion of Gaza.

Across the whole Gaza Strip, the number of people facing "catastrophic hunger" has risen to 1.1 million, half the population, it said.

(Reporting by Horaci Garcia; Writing by Aislinn Laing; Editing by Bill Berkrot)