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Gaza aid returns to Cyprus after Israel kills NGO workers

April 3, 2024 at 9:55 am

A ship loaded with humanitarian aid departing from the Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus is seen off the coast of Gaza city in Gaza Strip on April 01, 2024 [Ashraf Amra – Anadolu Agency]

Aid intended for Gaza is returning to Cyprus on the much-vaunted “sea corridor” after Israel killed seven World Central Kitchen (WCK) aid workers, Cypriot officials said on Tuesday, Reuters has reported. The US-based charity has said that it is pausing its work in the occupied Palestinian territory.

WCK staff had just offloaded 100 tons of food aid from a barge which sailed from Cyprus when Israel attacked their vehicle convoy in an air strike overnight on Monday. Cypriot Foreign Ministry spokesman Theodoros Gotsis said on Tuesday that around 100 tons of aid had been delivered before the international charity suspended operations after its workers were killed in the Israeli strike.

The barge was part of a four-vessel flotilla which set sail from Larnaca on 30 March. Another vessel still loaded with 240 tonnes of food, the Jennifer, was heading back to Cyprus on Tuesday with the empty barge, a salvage boat and a tug after the suspension of WCK’s operations.

“They only managed to offload the barge,” a Cypriot official told Reuters. “One third [of the aid cargo] was delivered, and two thirds is coming back.”

Monday’s attack was a serious setback in attempts to expedite aid into Gaza, where as many as 1 million Palestinians are on the verge of famine as a result of the Israeli military offensive on the enclave, which has killed more than 32,000 people, most of them children and women. More than 2m Palestinians are suffering from severe malnutrition.

Israel has said the air strike was “tragic” and unintended, even though WCK said it had coordinated movements with the Israeli military and two armoured cars were emblazoned with the charity’s logo.

The UAE, which had been the main financier for WCK’s aid efforts through the maritime corridor, said it was pausing humanitarian aid efforts though that channel pending further safety guarantees and a full investigation, said a government official.

“The tragic events must not discourage us. We need to double down on efforts to get aid to Gaza,” Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides said after a meeting with European Parliament President Roberta Metsola.

The three ships were carrying ready-to-eat items, including rice, pasta, flour, legumes, canned vegetables and proteins, sufficient to prepare more than a million meals, as well as dates that are traditionally eaten to break the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan, according to the same source.

WCK has been active in Gaza since October, bringing food by land routes and also participating in air drops. In March it launched an inaugural sea corridor transporting aid to the enclave from Cyprus. The aid ship Open Arms was the first to use it, carrying 200 tons of food, water and other aid.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos, said that the air strike happened 12 km from the landing area for aid, a makeshift jetty created by the charity. The aid workers had just ended a shift halfway through the offloading process, which was supposed to resume early on Tuesday, he explained.

Both Cyprus and the UAE expressed “profound condemnation” of the Israel air strike.

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