First ship to use new sea route arrives in Gaza with 200 tons of humanitarian aid

Humanitarian groups say airdrops, ships are less efficient ways of carrying aid, call on Israel to guarantee safe land corridors for trucks

World Central Kitchen boat off the coast of Gaza on March 15, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
World Central Kitchen boat off the coast of Gaza on March 15, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

A ship towing a barge loaded with food arrived off Gaza on Friday, the Israeli military and witnesses said, in a test run for a new aid route by sea from Cyprus to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis in the enclave five months into the war between Israel and Hamas.

The ship, arranged by the World Central Kitchen (WCK) charity, was carrying nearly 200 tons of aid, according to the organizers. It was delivered via a new jetty prepared in Gaza. A second ship was expected to sail soon.

Floating on a barge attached by rope to a salvage ship, rough seas appeared to slow down the cargo reaching land, footage posted by a WCK official on social media showed.

WCK had constructed a makeshift jetty which allowed the flat-bottomed barge to approach Gaza’s shallow waters for lack of proper port infrastructure.

“So far 2 crates already delivered from the barge,” WCK founder Jose Andres, a Michelin-starred chef, said in a post on X. “But still more to do next few (h)ours.”

The Israel Defense Forces later said that 115 tons of food and water from the barge were offloaded to 12 trucks, which were to be distributed in northern Gaza by WCK.

The IDF said the aid had undergone a “comprehensive security check” before being unloaded.

In a statement, the IDF said the delivery of the aid was being “carried out in coordination and subject to an agreement with the civilian company” adding that “the entry of humanitarian aid does not constitute a violation of the maritime security blockade.”

There are few details on how the aid delivery and distribution would work once it is ready to unload in Gaza, with UN relief agencies having described huge obstacles to getting relief supplies to those in need.

Israel has been under increasing pressure to allow more aid into Gaza. The United States has joined other countries in airdropping supplies to the isolated region of northern Gaza and has announced separate plans to construct a pier to get aid in.

Aid groups said the airdrops and sea shipments are far less efficient ways of delivering the massive amounts of aid needed in Gaza. Instead, the groups have called on Israel to guarantee safe corridors for truck convoys after land deliveries became nearly impossible because of military restrictions, ongoing hostilities, and the breakdown of order after the Hamas-run police force largely vanished from the streets. The daily number of supply trucks entering Gaza since the war began has been far below the 500 that entered before October 7.

World Central Kitchen aid reaches the pier in Gaza to be offloaded on March 15, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Earlier in the week, Israel allowed six aid trucks to enter directly into the north, a step aid groups have long called for.

World Central Kitchen operates 65 kitchens across Gaza and has served 32 million meals from them since the war started, the group said. The aid includes rice, flour, lentils, beans, tuna and canned meat, according to World Central Kitchen spokesperson Linda Roth.

An aircraft airdrops humanitarian aid over the northern Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, March 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

The organization plans to distribute the food in the Strip’s north, the largely devastated target of Israel’s initial offensive in Gaza, which has been mostly cut off by Israeli forces since October. Up to 300,000 Palestinians are believed to have remained there despite Israeli evacuation orders, with many reduced to eating animal feed in recent weeks. The aid is a tiny fraction of what is required, but the shipment was intended to pave the way for other larger shipments, officials working on the route have said.

A second vessel being loaded with even more aid will head to Gaza once the aid on the first ship is offloaded and distributed, Cyprus’s Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos said. He declined to specify when the second vessel would leave, saying it depends in part on whether the Open Arms delivery goes smoothly.

The Israel-Hamas war was triggered by Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel in which terrorists broke through the border, killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped 253 into Gaza.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza claims that over 31,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel in the war. The number cannot be independently verified as it is believed to include both Hamas terrorists and civilians, some of whom were killed as a consequence of the terror group’s own rocket misfires. The IDF says it has killed over 13,000 terrorists in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 who were killed inside Israel on and immediately following October 7.

The Open Arms ship could be spotted from the coast hours after Hamas accused Israeli forces of launching an attack near an aid distribution point in northern Gaza, killing 20 people and wounding 155 others. Hamas said a group waiting for aid near the Kuwaiti roundabout was hit by Israeli fire.

A Palestinian man transports sacks of humanitarian aid at the UNRWA distribution center in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 3, 2024. (AFP)

The Israeli military said in a statement that Palestinian gunmen were the ones to open fire and that none of its forces, who were securing a convoy of 31 aid trucks, fired toward the waiting crowd or the convoy. Some of those in the crowd were run over by the trucks, it said.

Thursday’s incident came weeks after more than 100 Palestinians were reported killed as they swarmed aid trucks that entered Gaza City. Hamas blamed the Israel Defense Forces for a reported 119 deaths. The military maintained that most people were killed in a stampede and that troops stationed in the area did not open fire on the convoy itself as the Hamas terror group had claimed. Rather, a probe found that shots were fired at several Gazans who moved toward soldiers and a tank at an IDF checkpoint, in a way that “posed a threat to them.”

After that, plans for the sea route took shape and the United States and other countries joined Jordan in dropping aid into the north by plane.

But people in northern Gaza say the airdrops are insufficient to meet the vast need. Many can’t access the aid because people are fighting over it, said Suwar Baroud, 24, who was displaced by the fighting and is now in Gaza City. Some people hoard it and sell it in the market, she said.

A recent airdrop that malfunctioned plummeted from the sky and killed five people.

Palestinians perform the first Friday prayers of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan near the ruins of a destroyed mosque in Rafah, Gaza Strip, March 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

Another drop landed in a sewage and garbage dump, said Riham Abu al-Bid, 27. Men ran in but were unable to retrieve anything, she said.

“I wish these airdrops never happened and that our dignity and freedom would be taken into consideration so that we can get our sustenance in a dignified way and not in a manner that is so humiliating,” she said.

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