Cyprus waiting for go ahead to ship Gaza aid

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Cyprus is ready to “immediately” begin shipping large quantities of humanitarian aid to Gaza in vessels that can navigate shallow water once conditions on the ground allow for it, President Nikos Christodoulides said.

He said Nicosia’s proposal for a maritime corridor from Larnaca to Gaza is the “only one currently being discussed on an international level” as a feasible way to significantly supplement the trickle of aid getting into the enclave through Egypt’s Rafah border checkpoint.

Planning for the corridor of about 370 kilometres is essentially completed, and aid can begin to flow when a pause in fighting is declared, Christodoulides said.

The Cypriot leader, who has been in regular contact with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the proposal, said that getting a green light to start the shipments is a complicated matter requiring intricate negotiations in light of the ongoing Israeli military operations in Gaza.

“Everyone supports this initiative, the European Union, the United States,” Christodoulides told The Associated Press in an interview.

“When we say that we’re a bridge to the region, we’re showing this in practice. It’s very important for our country.”

More significant is that Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lior Haiat said his country was “definitely in favour of the project.”

“We are exploring it with all the relevant ministries and agencies in Israel,” Haiat said without indicating when the corridor from Cyprus might open.

Israel put Gaza under siege and declared war on the Hamas militants who rule the Palestinian enclave after the group carried out a surprise attack in southern Israel on October 7, killing hundreds of people and taking 240 hostages.

Aid organisations say civilians don’t have enough food or clean water, and hospitals in Gaza report being out of even basic medical supplies.

The Israeli government has said it was reluctant to let aid into Gaza because Hamas might divert the shipments and thereby extend the group’s survival.

Its sensitivity regarding the security of supplies coming from Cyprus was addressed with an invitation for authorities from Israel, the US and other European countries to join Cypriot agents in vetting all shipments so nothing could be used by Hamas against Israel.

In the immediate term, shallow-draft vessels will be used to ferry the aid, and Cyprus is in contact with Gulf countries that can dispatch such ships, Christodoulides said.

“What do we want? We want everything to be in place, so when the situation on the ground allows for it, we can start”.

In the medium term, planning foresees the construction of a floating dock off Gaza where all types of ships can offload assistance.

For the long-term, the idea is to construct a Gaza port, he said.

According to Christodoulides, a side benefit to using the port of Larnaca to load cargo is its ample facilities to store the aid and its very close proximity to the main airport as well as a US-funded facility built to train personnel from Cyprus and neighbouring countries on port and maritime security.

Medicine, food, clothing, and other essentials collected and stored at the port will flow to Gaza continuously, but it would be a one-way aid corridor, meaning that no Palestinians would be permitted to use the ships to leave the enclave.

Aid reaching Gaza would be distributed by the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees using its established network, Christodoulides said. (source AP)