US working to get maritime aid corridor into Gaza up and running, says Blinken

By Humeyra Pamuk and Simon Lewis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Washington is working to coordinate a multinational effort to set up a maritime aid corridor into Gaza, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday, part of a U.S. strategy of "flooding the zone" with humanitarian assistance.

President Joe Biden last week announced plans for the U.S. military to set up a dock on Gaza's Mediterranean coast that will enable distribution of up to 2 million meals a day in Gaza. Aid agencies say five months of war between Israel and Hamas has driven much of the population there to the brink of famine.

Blinken held a video conference on Wednesday with officials from Cyprus, Britain, the UAE, Qatar, the European Union and the United Nations to discuss getting the new route up and running.

The U.S. was also working with Israel on the corridor, also supported by Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and Canada, but it would take time to establish the corridor, Blinken told reporters at the State Department.

"I want to emphasize it is a complement to, not a substitute for, other ways of getting humanitarian assistance into Gaza, and in particular overland routes remain the most critical way to get assistance in and then to people who need it," Blinken said.

President Joe Biden's administration faces growing criticism over its military support for Israel even as it pushes for more humanitarian access to Gaza, where Israeli forces launched an air and ground assault in response to the Oct. 7 attacks by Palestinian militants Hamas, which killed 1,200 people and took more than 250 hostages.

Israel's response has killed more than 31,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health authorities, destroyed much of the strip's infrastructure and sparked a humanitarian crisis.

Blinken said Israel needs to open as many land crossings into Gaza as possible, noting that shipments into northern Gaza began this week through a crossing known as the 96th gate. The U.S. military has also dropped meals into the strip from aircraft.

"The bottom line is we need to see... flooding the zone when it comes to humanitarian assistance for Gaza," Blinken said, adding that Washington continues to push for a deal that would see a temporary pause in fighting and the release of remaining hostages held in Gaza.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Simon Lewis; additional reporting by David LjunggrenEditing by Chris Reese and David Gregorio)