Gaza War: First aid ship leaves Cyprus

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Open Arms left Larnaca on Tuesday morning, towing a boat filled with food aid.

A Spanish ship carrying 200 tonnes of much-needed food supplies for the Palestinians in Gaza has finally left Cyprus.

Open Arms departs Larnaca shortly before 09:00 (07:00 GMT) on a cruise that takes two days.

Gaza has no functioning port, so World Central Kitchen, the American charity behind the mission, is building a jetty to receive aid.

The UN has warned that massive aid shortages have brought Gaza to the brink of famine.

The fastest, most effective way to get help within the region is by road. But aid agencies say only a fraction of what Israeli restrictions require is getting in.

If the open arms are successfully deployed in Gaza, other ships will follow as part of a European and Emirati maritime effort to receive additional assistance in Gaza.

As its forces continue to fight Hamas, Israel says it welcomes the creation of a sea route and would help transfer aid to Gaza.

The war began on October 7 when Hamas gunmen attacked southern Israel, killing around 1,200 people and taking 253 hostages. The Hamas-run health ministry says 31,180 people have been killed in Gaza so far.

The World Central Kitchen (WCK) announced that its first maritime aid shipment in several weeks would arrive in Gaza on Tuesday morning.

The Open Arms – a rescue ship from the Spanish charity of the same name – tows a barge filled with rice, flour, pulses, canned vegetables and canned proteins.

While it is at sea, Palestinians working for the WCK will continue to build a jetty at an undisclosed location off the coast of Gaza, which will be used to offload aid. They have been using the ruins of destroyed buildings and infrastructure for the past five months.

WCK says that if the jetty is ready on time, the food will be loaded into trucks and distributed to communities in need. The charity has a network of around 60 kitchens across Gaza and has provided more than 35 million meals to 1.7 million displaced Palestinians.

“We need to finish the jetty that allows us to download food! Failure is not an option…North [Gaza] To be fed!”

Later on Tuesday, the UN World Food Program (WFP) said it was able to get an aid convoy into northern Gaza for the first time in three weeks.

Enough food for 25,000 people has been distributed to Gaza City, the agency added, before saying, “We need deliveries every day.”

The UN says at least 576,000 people in Gaza – a quarter of the population – are one step away from famine.

It warns that time is running out for some 300,000 people isolated in the continent's north, the UN said. The agencies have been struggling with inaccessibility for months due to ongoing hostilities and law and order breakdown.

Gaza's health ministry said at least 25 people, many of them children, had died of malnutrition and dehydration in hospitals there.

image source, World Central Kitchen

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World Central Kitchen founder Jose Andres posted a photo showing workers building a jetty off the coast of Gaza.

“We are starving in two ways: lack of food, what little is available is beyond imagination,” said Yamen, a father of four. Reuters news agency on Tuesday.

The WCK says it is ready to send another 500 tons of aid to Cyprus, with the goal of “establishing a maritime highway of boats and barges with millions of food items that will continue to Gaza.”

Open Arms is the first aid ship to set sail as part of Cyprus' Maritime Corridor initiative, backed by the European Union, the UK and the US.

Cyprus President Nicos Christodoulits said the trip was “of hope and humanity” and could become a “lifeline for the common people”.

The U.S. has also launched a separate initiative that would see a military ship build a floating port off the coast of Gaza, including a temporary vessel to transport supplies ashore.

Western and Arab countries have often carried out airstrikes on northern Gaza. However, they are considered ineffective and expensive.

Two senior UN officials welcomed the opening of a sea route to Gaza, but warned that road routes are the only way to transport large quantities of food.

“There is no meaningful alternative to providing scaled assistance to the many land routes and entry points into Gaza from Israel,” said Sigrid Gaq, humanitarian and reconstruction coordinator for Gaza and UN Program Services. said Jorge Moreira da Silva, executive director of the office.

“The land routes from Egypt, particularly Rafah, and Jordan remain vital to the overall humanitarian effort.”

The UN has called for the North to open its crossings, which have been closed since the October 7 offensive, and to allow the port of Ashdod, 37km (23 miles) from Gaza, to be used as an aid route. Emphasizes Israel.

Israel denies blocking aid or its distribution and blames UN agencies for failing to get aid to people in need.

“More aid trucks reach Gaza through Israeli coordination with Gaza private sector Palestinian businessmen.”

About 500 lorries – capable of carrying up to 20 tons of goods – entered Gaza every day on average before the war. In the first 10 days of March, an average of 162 trucks entered Gaza daily through the Egyptian-controlled Rafah and Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom crossings, the UN said.

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