Cyprus unveils Gaza plan in Paris

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President Nikos Christodoulides outlined a proposal on Thursday to open a maritime corridor to help deliver more aid to Gaza, a plan which he said could be operational quickly but which diplomats said faced challenges.

Under the plan presented at a humanitarian conference in Paris, aid would be sent by sea to Gaza from Cyprus, the closest European Union state about 370 km away.

“We hope immediately to implement it,” he said of the 25-page proposal.

The plan is aimed at expanding the capacity for humanitarian relief to the Gaza Strip beyond limited deliveries being made through the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the Palestinian enclave since Israel began its air and ground offensive in Gaza.

Diplomats cautioned that the plan faced logistical, political and also security challenges.

The deliveries through Rafah did not start until about two weeks into the offensive launched by Israel in response to a deadly Palestinian attack in southern Israel on October 7.

The process has been marred by diplomatic wrangling centred on Israeli demands over inspections, and security concerns and a lack of fuel have hampered the aid distribution.

The port infrastructure construction off Gaza started in 2016 but was later abandoned.

There was no immediate comment from Israel on the Cypriot proposal.

Christodoulides said the operations centre would be based in Larnaca, where there is a port and airport, and a coordination centre with 33 countries is already in place.

The port’s capacity would be 200,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid, enabling 2,000 tonnes of aid transfers per vessel.

Humanitarian aid would arrive in Cyprus and sent on vessels checked daily by a joint committee including Israel, he said.

Once loaded, convoys would be followed by warships to an area identified on the Gaza coast, from where it would be sent to a safe, neutral area.

“For the medium and long-term, there are several steps to designate a port and adapted floating harbour,” Christodoulides said, adding that the European Commission, Greece, France and the Netherlands were keen to get involved.

“We need to identify a zone in the south of Gaza to create the port infrastructure,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said.

“If these conditions are fulfilled, Greece would be ready to help with naval ships.”

On top of the Cypriot proposal, diplomats said France had also suggested taking the idea further and expanding the corridor to evacuate severely wounded people onto hospital ships in the Mediterranean off Gaza.

An Israeli official said this week that these discussions were “still ongoing”. (source Reuters)