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Aid ship heads to Gaza

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The maritime corridor providing humanitarian aid from Cyprus to the people of Gaza will probably be launched on Sunday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in Larnaca following her inspection of the port installations together with President Nikos Christodoulides.

The Amalthea Initiative for the delivery of aid to Gaza after five months of war, was spearheaded by Cyprus and has been supported by the EU, as well as the governments of the United Arab Emirates, the U.S., and the U.K.

The first vessel as part of this initiative, belongs to the Spanish ‘Open Arms’ NGO and has been anchored in Larnaca waiting for the go ahead to deliver food and other supplies provided by the Washington-based charity, World Central Kitchens.

“WCK has mobilised to Cyprus to join efforts to open a maritime humanitarian corridor into Gaza. We’re working with the United Arab Emirates, NGO partner Open Arms and the international community to ensure desperately-needed food reaches Palestinians in need,” the charity said.

At the same time, President Joe Biden announced during his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol that the U.S. military will set up a temporary port off Gaza’s coast in support of such efforts.

Later, von der Leyen and Christodoulides visited the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) in Larnaca, where he said that what happens in the Middle East concerns all Europeans.

“The war across the sea from Cyprus is not a regional crisis of limited concern or impact. The spillover of the crisis will be even more catastrophic with profound consequences for the region and beyond. And we have a responsibility to act. What is unfolding before our eyes is a humanitarian tragedy.”

He said that the Cyprus maritime corridor aims at scaling up aid by complementing other routes that include the all-important Rafah crossing from Egypt and the airdrops from Jordan.

“At the same time, the UN Special Coordinator for Gaza, Sigrid Kaag, and her important mandate to coordinate, increase and standardise the humanitarian assistance going into Gaza are also important elements in making the corridor a sustained, long-term maritime lifeline for the civilians in Gaza,” Christodoulides said.

“Here at the JRCC, we also monitor all sea traffic going in and out of Cyprus. As we have discussed, the number of migrants from Syria and Lebanon have been consistently increasing in recent months, which is deeply concerning for Cyprus.”

The EC President said, “we are here because Palestinians, and in particular those in Gaza, need all our help. The humanitarian situation in Gaza is dire, with innocent Palestinian families and children desperate for basic needs.

Innocent civilians

“Today we are facing a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza and we stand by the innocent civilians in Palestine. This is why Europe is financing a major humanitarian aid effort for Palestinians in Gaza and in the region – €250 mln this year alone – but the key challenge is to get the aid to the people on the ground in Gaza.

“Cyprus has always been a bridge between Europe and the Middle East and thanks to the Amalthea initiative, it is proving this historical role once again.

Von der Leyen, who won the European People’s Party support on Thursday to run for a second five-year term, made special reference to UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed, for mobilising support to activate this corridor by securing the first of many shipments of goods to the people of North Gaza.

“As part of our EU humanitarian air bridge operation, we have launched 41 flights carrying over 1,800 tonnes of aid and we will consider all other options, including airdrops if our humanitarian partners on the ground consider this effective.”

However, she said that, “we must also focus our efforts on preventing an ignition of violence across the whole region. I am in regular contact with President al-Sisi of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan.

“The situation in the Red Sea is particularly concerning with maritime security deteriorating day after day and critical infrastructure damaged due to the repeated Houthi attacks. This is why we have launched the EU naval force operation Aspides.

“With Aspides, Europe is acting to ensure freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, working alongside with our international partners.”

Von der Leyen concluded that as regards the day after, “we agree that we must start preparing with a viable perspective and this perspective continues to lie in the two-state solution. This requires an immediate humanitarian pause that would lead to a sustainable ceasefire.

“It is clear that there can be no forced displacement of Palestinians and no blockade of Gaza. But it is equally clear that Gaza cannot be a safe haven for terrorists and we will keep on calling for the immediate, unconditional release of all hostages held by Hamas.”