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First aid ship to Gaza leaves Cyprus port in pilot project

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A ship transporting almost 200 tons of food to Gaza left a port in Cyprus early on Tuesday in a pilot project to open a new sea route for aid to a population on the brink of famine.

The Open Arms, a rescue vessel owned by a Spanish NGO, departs with humanitarian aid for Gaza from Larnaca, March 12, 2024. Reuters/Yiannis Kourtoglou

A ship transporting almost 200 tons of food to Gaza left a port in Cyprus early on Tuesday in a pilot project to open a new sea route for aid to a population on the brink of famine.

The charity ship Open Arms sailed out of Larnaca port in Cyprus, towing a barge containing flour, rice and protein.

The 200-mile (320 km) voyage across the eastern Mediterranean to Gaza with a heavy tow barge could take up to 2 days, Cypriot officials have said.

The mission, funded mostly by the United Arab Emirates, is organised by U.S. based charity World Central Kitchen (WCK), while Spanish charity Proactiva Open Arms supplied the ship.

"Our goal is to establish a maritime highway of boats and barges stocked with millions of meals continuously headed towards Gaza," said WCK founder Jose Andres and chief executive officer Erin Gore in a statement.

WCK says it has a further 500 tons of aid in Cyprus ready for dispatch.

The charities intend to take aid directly to Gaza, which has been sealed off from the outside world since Israel began its offensive in response to an Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas militants.

With the lack of port infrastructure, WCK said it was building a landing jetty in Gaza with material from destroyed buildings and rubble. This is a separate initiative to a plan announced by U.S. President Joe Biden last week to build a temporary pier in the Gaza to facilitate aid deliveries by sea.

Construction of the jetty was "well underway", WCK's Andres said in a post on X. "We may fail, but the biggest failure will not be trying!" he wrote, posting a picture of work with bulldozers apparently levelling out ground close to sea.

The mission, if successful, would signify the first easing of an Israeli naval blockade imposed on Gaza in 2007 after Hamas took control of the Palestinian enclave.

The United Nations has warned of widespread famine among Gaza's 2.3 million Palestinians five months into the war.

Cyprus said its maritime corridor offers a fast-track workaround to getting aid delivered where needed. Cargoes are to undergo security inspections in Cyprus by a team including personnel from Israel, eliminating the need for offloading screenings to remove potential hold-ups in aid deliveries.

By Stamos Prousalis and Yiannis Kourtoglou



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