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EU sees maritime aid corridor to Gaza opening this weekend, amid famine fears

March 8, 2024 at 4:14 pm

Oweida family eat cactus leaves as they struggle to find food due to ongoing Israeli blockade as they take refuge in a UNRWA school, seeking safety amid Israeli attacks in Beit Lahia, Gaza on February 28, 2024. [Mahmud Isa – Anadolu Agency]

The head of the European Commission said, on Friday, a maritime aid corridor could start operating between Cyprus and Gaza this weekend, part of accelerating Western efforts to relieve the humanitarian crisis in the war-ravaged Palestinian enclave, Reuters reports.

Ursula von der Leyen’s comments came a day after President Joe Biden announced plans for the US military to build a “temporary pier” on Gaza’s Mediterranean coast, amid UN warnings of famine among the Territory’s 2.3 million people.

Negotiations on a possible ceasefire in Israel’s war against Palestine, now in its fifth month, remained deadlocked in Cairo, while the UN Human Rights office urged Israel not to extend its military offensive into the border town of Rafah, saying this would cause a further “massive loss of life”.

EU Commission President von der Leyen said a pilot test run of food aid collected by a charity group and supported by the United Arab Emirates could be leaving Cyprus as early as Friday.

“We are launching this Cyprus maritime corridor together, the European Union, the United Arab Emirates and the United States,” she said, after visting facilities in Larnaca, Cyprus.

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“We are now very close to opening this corridor, hopefully this Saturday-Sunday and I’m very glad to see an initial pilot will be launched today.”

She gave no details on where the aid would be delivered in Gaza and made no reference to Biden’s announcement, in his State of the Union speech to Congress on Thursday, that the US military would build a “temporary pier” on the Gaza coast to receive ships carrying food, water and medicines.

US officials said building such a facility could take weeks, yet hospitals in northern Gaza are already reporting children dying of malnutrition. The UN says opening up more land routes should remain the priority.

“No US boots will be on the ground,” said Biden, who did not indicate where the planned “pier” might be located. Most of Gaza’s coast is beach and larger ships would be unable to approach it without dredging.

It was also unclear if Israel or other forces would provide security for the temporary facility. Desperate people have increasingly been seizing supplies being trucked into Gaza.

Reacting to Biden’s speech, a senior Israeli government official said on Friday: “Israel and the United States are coordinating on the maritime route supply of humanitarian aid. It will be enabled, subject to security clearance.”

‘We don’t need aid from them’ 

The Palestinian Authority also welcomed Biden’s comments, but reaction among ordinary Palestinians was much less positive.

“Instead of telling us they will build a port to help us, stop (providing) the weapons they throw at us,” said Hassan Maslah, a displaced Palestinian from Khan Yunis, now sheltering in Rafah.

“All these American weapons are killing our kids, and killing us wherever we go. We don’t need aid from them; we need them to stop the killing, stop the death,” he said, as Gazans sifted through rubble nearby after another Israeli airstrike.

Hamas has not yet responded to requests for comment on the US plan.

While welcoming the latest Western efforts to increase the flow of aid to Gaza, UNRWA, the United Nations’ relief agency for the Palestinians, added a strong dose of caution.

“… there’s an easier, more efficient way of bringing in assistance and that is via the road crossings that connect Israel with Gaza,” spokesperson Juliette Touma said.

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Although Israel is increasing the number of aid-bearing trucks allowed into Gaza and the United States and other countries have been airdropping supplies, the assistance getting in is still insufficient, one US official said.

“We’re not waiting for the Israelis” to let in more aid, the official added. “This is a moment for American leadership.”

Palestinian media reported on Friday that two Palestinians were killed and several others wounded when aid boxes dropped from the air fell on people waiting for them in the northern Gaza Strip.

Separately, Palestinian health officials said eight people of the same family had been killed in an Israeli air strike on their house in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip.

Ceasefire talks stalled 

Egyptian security sources have said the ceasefire talks, taking place in Cairo without an Israeli delegation, would resume on Sunday, the expected start of Ramadan, amid fears that violence could escalate across the region during the Muslim fasting month.

Israel has said any ceasefire must be temporary and that its goal remains the destruction of Hamas, the group that Israel says killed 1,200 people and abducted 253 in a rampage into its territory on 7 October.

However, since then, it has been revealed by Haaretz that helicopters and tanks of the Israeli army had, in fact, killed many of the 1,139 soldiers and civilians claimed by Israel to have been killed by the Palestinian Resistance.

In response, Israel launched a ground offensive and aerial bombardment of the densely populated Gaza Strip which, as of Friday, had killed at least 30,878 Palestinians and wounded 72,402, the enclave’s Health Ministry said.

The United Nations Human Rights Office appealed to Israel on Friday not to extend its military offensive into Rafah, the Gaza town on the border with Egypt where some 1.5 million people are now sheltering.

“… any ground assault on Rafah would incur massive loss of life and would heighten the risk of further atrocity crimes,” said Jeremy Laurence, spokesperson for the UN Human Rights Office. “This must not be allowed to happen.”

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, reiterated on Thursday that Israel would press its offensive into Rafah, saying the alternative would be to accept defeat in its war against Hamas.

READ: Gaza children may not survive famine, warns WHO chief