Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Israel-Gaza war: Gaza aid ship still hasn't left Cyprus

  • By Sofia Ferreira Santos
  • BBC News

image source, World Central Kitchen

image caption,

The ship Open Arms tows a barge loaded with dry and canned food for the Gazans.

A ship carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza has docked in Cyprus, a day after it was due to set sail.

A charity leading the mission told the BBC it was a “quickly evolving and fluid situation” but hoped the ship, Open Arms, would set sail soon.

On Sunday evening, a new moon sighting marked the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in Gaza.

A ceasefire is off the table as indirect talks between Israel and Hamas have largely stalled.

The UN has warned that famine in Gaza is “almost inevitable” and that children are dying of starvation.

Aid agencies and Western politicians say the best way to get much-needed aid to Gaza is by land.

Last week, UK Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron said the UK, US and EU were continuing to press Israel to “allow more trucks into Gaza”.

He also said Israel should open its container port at Ashdod, north of Gaza, and receive aid supplies until a sea route from Cyprus is operational.

Israel denies blocking aid or its delivery into Gaza, and blames UN agencies on the ground for failing to get the aid allowed to people in need.

Mission Open Arms is unique to US plans to begin building a floating dock off the coast of Gaza to help deliver aid by sea.

A U.S. Navy ship, the General Frank S. Besson, departed a base in the state of Virginia on Saturday to sail to the Middle East, carrying equipment to build a temporary dock that will allow large aid-carrying ships to disembark.

But the Pentagon has said it could take up to 60 days to build the ship with the help of 1,000 troops — none of whom will go ashore.

Meanwhile, the Open Arms is the first ship to sail from Cyprus to Gaza under the maritime corridor plan announced by the European Union, the United States and the United Kingdom.

The rescue ship, still docked in the Cypriot port city of Larnaca, belongs to the Spanish charity of the same name.

Food is provided by World Central Kitchen (WCK), an American charity founded by Spanish celebrity chef José Andrés.

In a video posted from the port of Larnaca on Monday morning, WCK's Juan Camilo said “everything is ready” for the ship to depart.

“We are ready to go from this side, preparing our team in Gaza [distribute] “We hope this will be the first of many trips to Gaza by sea,” he said.

A barge loaded with 200 tonnes of food including rice, flour and cans of meat and fish will be towed. The journey is expected to take around 50 hours.

A spokesman for WCK told the BBC that the charity had started building a jetty on the Gaza coast to bring food ashore.

Some observers are skeptical of plans to deliver aid by sea. Michael Fakhri, an independent UN human rights expert, said the US military operation to build the ships “will not prevent starvation and famine by any definition”.

As the humanitarian situation worsens, many countries have turned to airdrops.

Following Israeli security checks on cargo, aid trucks are entering Gaza via the Rafah crossing with Egypt and Kerem Shalom with Israel.

But both crossings are in the south of Gaza, and fighting and the breakdown of social order prevent them from reaching northern Gaza, where about 300,000 people live on very little food and water.

Two Israeli-controlled crossings in northern Gaza have been closed since Hamas militants attacked southern Israel on October 7.

On Sunday, US President Joe Biden said the suffering of Palestinians would be “on his mind” and that of many, as Ramadan came at a “moment of great pain”.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres marked the start of the holy month with a video message of “solidarity and support for all those affected by the horrors in Gaza.”

Israel's military launched an air and ground campaign in Gaza after Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7, which killed around 1,200 people and took 253 hostages.

More than 31,100 people have been killed in Gaza so far, according to the territory's Hamas-run health ministry.

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