Aid from Cyprus to enter Gaza via new pier; EU warns of pockets of famine

Bloc’s humanitarian chief adds to growing calls for Israel to open more land routes into Strip; charity starts loading humanitarian supplies onto second vessel at Cyprus port

A ship belonging to the Open Arms aid group with aid on a platform ferrying some 200 tons of rice and flour to Gaza, departs from the port from southern city of Larnaca, Cyprus, March 12, 2024 (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)
A ship belonging to the Open Arms aid group with aid on a platform ferrying some 200 tons of rice and flour to Gaza, departs from the port from southern city of Larnaca, Cyprus, March 12, 2024 (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

The Israel Defense Forces said Wednesday it was preparing for the arrival in Gaza of a ship from Cyprus bringing almost 200 tons of food in what will be the first humanitarian aid delivery by sea, as the EU humanitarian chief warned there are already pockets of famine in the Strip.

The charity ship Open Arms set sail on Tuesday out of Larnaca port, towing a barge containing a load of flour, rice, and protein from the World Central Kitchen (WCK) organization, funded by the United Arab Emirates and Cyprus.

The IDF said the aid delivery was being “carried out in coordination with Israeli security and civilian authorities, in accordance with the directive of the government of Israel and at the request of the US government.”

The ship was to be inspected by the Israeli Navy at sea once it gets to around 20 nautical miles from the Gaza coast, according to information seen by The Times of Israel.

From there, the aid ship will be escorted by the Navy and Air Force toward Gaza’s coast.

At a certain stage, an Israeli vessel will tow the aid to a makeshift temporary pier built in the central Gaza Strip. The pier was built by WCK in coordination with the IDF.

The distribution of the aid itself will not be carried out by the IDF. An Israeli official previously told The Times of Israel that the WCK was responsible for getting the food to Gazan civilians.

At the coast, the IDF will secure the aid at a distance from the air and sea, similar to how it has secured convoys on the ground.

A member of the World Central Kitchen walks by the humanitarian aid loaded onto pallets for transport to the port of Larnaca from where it’s going to be shipped to Gaza, at a warehouse near Larnaca, Cyprus, March 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Meanwhile, a second ship with a larger cargo of food aid to Gaza was being loaded in Cyprus on Thursday, WCK said.

The charity said it was loading a vessel at Larnaca port with 300 tons of food aid — including legumes, canned tuna, vegetables, rice and flour.

“Our pallets should be screened and loaded by the end of the day Cyprus time,” the WCK said in a statement. It did not say when that vessel would set sail.

The IDF is also carrying out trials of delivering aid directly to northern Gaza using a new military road, while various nations continue to carry out airdrops.

Trucks carrying humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip pass through the inspection area at the Kerem Shalom Crossing in southern Israel, March 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

The expected arrival of the ships comes amid a spiraling humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The EU’s humanitarian aid and crisis management chief Janez Lenarcic said Thursday that there were already pockets of famine in the enclave, and warned it could spread to the whole region.

Speaking to journalists, he urged Israel to open more ground routes to deliver aid to Gaza.

Lenarcic’s comments came a day after 25 organizations, including Amnesty International and Oxfam, said airdrops and efforts to open a maritime corridor were “no alternative” to land deliveries because they could only provide a fraction of the aid needed.

European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic speaks during a press conference at the EU headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, March 31, 2023 (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Additionally, Cypriot Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos hosted a virtual meeting on Wednesday with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and senior ministers and officials from Britain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, the European Union and the United Nations to discuss the maritime corridor.

“The ministers agreed that there is no meaningful substitute to land routes via Egypt and Jordan and entry points from Israel into Gaza for aid delivery at scale,” they said in a joint statement.

They also called on Israel to open the port of Ashdod, north of Gaza, for aid deliveries.

The war began on October 7 when thousands of Hamas terrorists attacked southern Israel, killing 1,200 people amid cases of torture and rape, and taking 253 hostages.

Families of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza block the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv, during a protest calling for their release, March 14, 2024 (Dor Pazuelo/Flash90)

Israel swiftly declared war on Hamas, vowing to topple the terror group’s regime in Gaza and free the hostages.

The Israel Defense Forces launched a ground operation in the Palestinian enclave alongside intense airstrikes in a campaign that has killed over 31,341 people, according to Hamas-run Gaza health authorities. These numbers cannot be independently verified and are believed to include over 13,000 terror operatives who were killed in battle as well as Gazans who were killed by terror groups’ misfired rockets. The IDF also killed more than 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on and immediately after October 7.

People check the destruction after an Israeli strike in Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on March 13, 2024 (AFP)

As the ground offensive continued, the IDF said Thursday that troops of the elite LOTAR counter-terrorism unit located rocket launchers adjacent to a school and rockets under a bed in the home of a Hamas operative in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis.

The IDF said troops have been raiding Hamas hideout apartments and other sites in various neighborhoods of Khan Younis.

The military released footage of troops discovering a rocket launcher, which had already been used, as well as the cache of weapons in the home of the Hamas operative.

Additionally, the IDF said that troops on Wednesday spotted and struck a group of terrorists after they launched a mortar from central Gaza at Israeli border communities. The mortar fell short and impacted inside the Strip, and within five minutes the cell was located and killed in an airstrike, the IDF said.

Also in central Gaza, the IDF said the Nahal Brigade killed several Hamas gunmen over the past day, including by calling in airstrikes and through tank shelling.

In southern Gaza, the 98th Division continued to battle Hamas in the Khan Younis area.

The IDF said the Givati Brigade raided buildings in Khan Younis’s Hamad Town residential complex, locating a rocket launcher in one of them.

Givati troops also called in an airstrike on two Hamas operatives spotted in their area, the IDF said.

In the Bani Suheila area, the 7th Armored Brigade spotted and called in tank shelling against three operatives that were approaching them, and also called in an airstrike on two operatives near a Hamas weapons depot, the IDF said.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the pier was built by the IDF.

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