ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 55

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Cyprus prepared to ‘immediately’ ship aid to Gaza through sea corridor

Shipments can begin traveling from Larnaca to Gaza as soon as there is pause in fighting, as part of initiative to boost limited aid entering through Rafah crossing

An aerial view of the harbor of the port of Cyprus's southern coastal city of Larnaca, May 28, 2021. (Amir MAKAR / AFP)
An aerial view of the harbor of the port of Cyprus's southern coastal city of Larnaca, May 28, 2021. (Amir MAKAR / AFP)

Cyprus is ready to “immediately” begin shipping large quantities of humanitarian aid to Gaza in vessels that can navigate shallow water once conditions on the ground allow for it, the president of the east Mediterranean island nation said Monday.

Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides said his country’s proposal for a maritime corridor from Cyprus’s port of Larnaca to Gaza is the “only one currently being discussed on an international level” as a feasible way to significantly supplement the trickle of aid getting into the enclave through Egypt’s Rafah border checkpoint.

Planning for the corridor of about 230 miles (370 kilometers) is essentially completed, and aid can begin to flow when a pause in fighting is declared, Christodoulides said.

The Cypriot leader, who has been in regular contact with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the proposal, said that getting a green light to start the shipments is a complicated matter requiring intricate negotiations, in light of the ongoing Israeli military operations in Gaza.

“Everyone supports this initiative, the European Union, the United States,” Christodoulides told The Associated Press in an interview. “When we say that we’re a bridge to the region, we’re showing this in practice. It’s very important for our country.”

More significant is that Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lior Haiat said his country was “definitely in favor of the project.”

File: Trucks carrying humanitarian aid enter the southern Gaza Strip from Egypt via the Rafah border crossing on November 19, 2023. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

“We are exploring it with all the relevant ministries and agencies in Israel,” Haiat said, without indicating when the corridor from Cyprus might open.

War was sparked by the Hamas terror group’s shock October 7 assault on southern Israeli communities, when 3,000 terrorists broke through the border and murdered some 1,200 people, a majority of them civilians, and kidnapped some 240 people to Gaza.

In response, Israel vowed to eliminate the terror group in a military campaign that the Hamas-run health ministry says has killed 13,000 people in Gaza, including thousands of children. Those figures cannot be independently verified, and do not distinguish between terror operatives and noncombatants, or those killed by failed rocket launches.

Aid organizations say civilians do not have enough food or clean water, and hospitals in Gaza report being out of basic medical supplies.

The Israeli government has said it was reluctant to let aid into Gaza because Hamas might divert the shipments and thereby extend the group’s survival. Its sensitivity regarding the security of supplies coming from Cyprus was addressed with an invitation for authorities from Israel, the US, and other European countries to join Cypriot agents in vetting all shipments so nothing could be used by Hamas against Israel.

In the immediate term, shallow-draft vessels will be used to ferry the aid, and Cyprus is in contact with Gulf countries that can dispatch such ships, Christodoulides said.

“What do we want? We want everything to be in place so when the situation on the ground allows for it, we can start,” Cyprus’s president said.

Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in his office at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, November 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

In the medium term, planning foresees the construction of a floating dock off Gaza where all types of ships can offload assistance. For the long-term, the idea is to construct a Gaza port, he said.

According to Christodoulides, a side benefit to using the port of Larnaca to load cargo is its ample facilities to store the aid and its very close proximity to the island’s main airport as well as a US-funded facility built to train personnel from Cyprus and neighboring countries on port and maritime security.

Medicine, food, clothing, and other essentials collected and stored at the port will flow to Gaza continuously, but it would be a one-way aid corridor, meaning that no Palestinians would be permitted to use the ships to leave the enclave, he said.

Aid reaching Gaza would be distributed by the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees using its established network, Christodoulides said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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