British and Cypriot aid screened in Cyprus heads to Gaza via Egypt

Incorporating Israeli security officials, Cypriots say they have successfully tested a screening mechanism for cargo that could eliminate need for checks in Israel

Outgoing Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen talks to the media during a press conference after a meeting with his Cypriot counterpart Constantinos Kombos at the Zenon Joint Rescue Coordination Center in southern coastal city of Larnaca, Cyprus, December 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)
Outgoing Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen talks to the media during a press conference after a meeting with his Cypriot counterpart Constantinos Kombos at the Zenon Joint Rescue Coordination Center in southern coastal city of Larnaca, Cyprus, December 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

NICOSIA — Britain and Cyprus have sent 87 tons of aid to Gaza via Egypt, the two countries said on Tuesday, with Cypriot officials saying they had successfully tested a screening mechanism for cargo offering an alternative route for badly needed supplies.

The January 1 delivery to Port Said in Egypt for transfer to Gaza through the Rafah border crossing fell short of Cyprus’s ultimate objective to establish a direct aid corridor to the Palestinian enclave. But, for the first time, it offered a workaround on how aid could be accelerated by eliminating security checks in Israel itself, officials said.

The Cypriot initiative to create a sustained, one-way sea route into Gaza entails aid undergoing security checks in Cyprus by government agencies, including from Israel, before being dispatched onwards from the eastern Mediterranean island.

“The international community now has a workable alternative at its disposal to send additional humanitarian aid to the population of Gaza,” Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides said in a written statement.

But underscoring logistical challenges, the British Royal Fleet auxiliary ship which offloaded thermal blankets, shelter packs and medicine in Egypt on Monday was at sea for at least 10 days awaiting clarity as to whether it could sail directly to Gaza, individuals with knowledge of the situation said.

The direct route is not currently executable due to requirements including security matters which have “not been met at this point in time,” one of those sources said.

“The situation is very dynamic and we will continue to deliberate with all relevant stakeholders on the best time and way to operationalize the initiative,” the source said.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said Britain was committed to supporting the people of Gaza.

“Significantly more aid needs to reach Gaza to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people,” he said.

Hamas fighters ride on top of a humanitarian aid truck in Rafah, Gaza Strip, December 19, 2023. (AP Photo)

Israel is waging a nearly 12-week-old offensive on Gaza in retaliation for a cross-border killing spree by Hamas that saw some 1,200 killed brutally — mostly civilians — and 240 taken hostage to Gaza. Over 100 are still in terrorist captivity.

The Israeli offensive has devastated much of the Gaza Strip, killing at least 22,000 people, according to unconfirmed Hamas Health Ministry reports, and causing a humanitarian disaster, with most of the 2.3 million population homeless and acutely short of food, water, medicine and fuel.

Eli Cohen, Israel’s outgoing foreign minister, said on Sunday the country was prepared to let ships deliver aid to the war-ravaged enclave “immediately.”

Cyprus, situated some 370 kilometers (230 miles) northwest of Gaza, is the closest European Union member state to the region. Its plan is meant to expand the capacity for humanitarian relief to the Gaza Strip beyond the limited deliveries now being made overland through Rafah.

Any direct sail to Gaza with Israel’s consent would mark the first easing of an Israeli naval blockade imposed on Gaza in 2007 after Palestinian terror group Hamas seized control of the coastal enclave. Israel says the blockade is necessary to limit Hamas’s ability to arm itself for attacks such as the one it committed on October 7.

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