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Cyprus ‘paved the way’ for Gaza aid corridor

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The Cypriot ‘Amalthia’ initiative to set up a maritime humanitarian aid corridor to Gaza, has laid the groundwork for international collective efforts, a US official said at a meeting attended by officials from 36 countries and international organisations.

The initiative has gained some EUR 80 mln in pledges, with one shipment already sent from Larnaca port, while U.S. army engineers are expected to contribute to the relief efforts by building a jetty in Gaza to receive the aid cargoes.

Curtis Ried, Chief of Staff for the U.S. National Security Council (NSC), praised the Republic of Cyprus for “transforming its strategic position into a humanitarian solution”.

The meeting took place at the Zenon joint rescue coordination centre (JRCC) in Larnaca, with dignitaries discussing possible ways to alleviate the ongoing food crisis impacting Gaza, as conflict rages on for the sixth month in the enclave.

Curtis praised the Cyprus initiative to establish the aid passage to Gaza, saying it was essential in fostering a shared understanding among the nearly 40 participating partners regarding the challenges and opportunities presented by activating the maritime corridor.

The US official expressed the commitment of participants to collectively address both material and financial gaps identified during the Larnaca meeting.

Highlighting the importance of continued dialogue, Ried expressed gratitude to Cyprus for hosting the critical meeting and for its efforts in creating the Amalthia initiative, which laid the groundwork for agreed-upon joint endeavours.

Ried reiterated the United States’ commitment to advocating for a ceasefire to facilitate the release of hostages and increase humanitarian aid to Gaza. He informed foreign officials about the construction of a jetty during the Larnaca meeting, aimed at facilitating the flow of aid through the maritime corridor.

During the session, Sigrid Kaag, the United Nations’ Under-Secretary-General, revealed plans to establish a secretariat in Cyprus, in collaboration with the Republic of Cyprus, to ensure effective coordination among donors and address Gaza’s needs.

Cyprus Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos, chaired the Larnaca meeting and discussed efforts to strengthen organisational capacity at departure points, waterways, and aid reception and distribution centres.

“The purpose … is to see how our level of organisation can be strengthened, both at the point of departure and in terms of strengthening our capacity on the waterways, as well as in terms of receiving and distributing aid,” Kombos told reporters.

Speaking from Brussels, President Nikos Christodoulides spoke of “indications” that the EU would initially contribute EUR 70 mln to the fund.

Additionally, the Netherlands already pledged EUR 10 mln to the fund.

“The maritime corridor is a supplementary option for providing humanitarian assistance, and the goal of the Republic of Cyprus is to further enhance and intensify the humanitarian aid mission,” commented President Christodoulides.

Meanwhile, World Central Kitchen shipped and distributed around 200 tonnes of food and aid to northern Gaza, with plans for continued aid shipments, using the ‘Open Arms’ vessel, with a barge in tow.

“The aid went to families facing starvation in areas largely cut off by the war,” the NGO behind the operation, World Central Kitchen, said in a post on Facebook.

Juan Camilo, one of the coordinating officers for WCK, said that the NGO “will eventually be able to provide huge quantities of food daily into the shores of Gaza.

Back in Cyprus, preparations for a second vessel, the ‘Jennifer’, loaded with around 500 tonnes of aid, are underway, pending favourable weather conditions, as confirmed by Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos.

U.S. troops to build temporary port

Meanwhile, four ships with around 100 U.S. troops on board has sailed from Virginia, to build a makeshift pier off the coast of Gaza to enable the delivery of much-needed supplies.

The convoy is expected to arrive around April 15. This mission aligns with President Joe Biden’s recent declaration in his State of the Union speech, which emphasised the U.S. commitment to aiding Gaza.

The temporary pier is intended to enable the movement of humanitarian aid from larger ships to smaller ships for onshore distribution. It is expected to be operational within sixty days. When fully operational, the dock will be able to offload up to two million meals or bottles of water every day.

President Biden emphasised that this programme does not include “boots on the ground” in Gaza. Nonetheless, American forces will play a significant role in the building process; 500 soldiers from the 7th Transportation Battalion (Expeditionary) will be involved in the project.

Israel is scheduled to assist in anchoring the pier, and security plans for the temporary port have been laid out.