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Israel, Cyprus discuss 'fast track' maritime lane for aid to Gaza

1 min

Israel and Cyprus agreed on Wednesday to pursue ways to set up a maritime aid corridor to Gaza, a move Israel said was an "important step" towards disengaging economically from the enclave it has invaded to wipe out Hamas militants.

Constantinos Kombos (L) and Eli Cohen 

Israel and Cyprus agreed on Wednesday to pursue ways to set up a maritime aid corridor to Gaza, a move Israel said was an "important step" towards disengaging economically from the enclave it has invaded to wipe out Hamas militants.

Israel's foreign minister was in Cyprus for talks on the corridor, proposed by Nicosia in early November. It will be subject to a security inspection coordinated by Israel, an Israeli foreign ministry statement said.

Cyprus, the closest European Union member state to the Middle East, has offered to host and operate facilities for sustained aid directly into the Gaza Strip once the devastating war between Israel and Hamas ends.

Should the plan materialise, it will be the first time an Israeli naval blockade on Gaza is eased since it was first imposed by Israel in 2007, after the Islamist Hamas seized control of the Palestinian territory.

"International aid, well supervised, will help the region gain more stability and prosperity," Cohen said after talks with his Cypriot counterpart Constantinos Kombos.

The announcement came with Israel facing increasing pressure from its international allies to rein in a military onslaught that has laid waste to much of the coastal enclave in retaliation for a cross-border Hamas killing spree on Oct. 7.

Until then, Israel allowed only heavily restricted trade with impoverished and isolated Gaza, and a limited number of permits for Gazans to work in Israel for much higher pay.

The overall objective, Cohen said, was to create a "fast track" for humanitarian aid to be delivered via a sea corridor. Technical teams from the two countries would be discussing the matter further on Wednesday and Thursday, he said.

"Our aim is to have all the details agreed as soon as possible," Cohen said.

The two ministers visited the port of Larnaca, which is situated some 370 km (230 miles) northwest of Gaza and would be the security checkpoint on the Cypriot end of the maritime lane.

Gaza lacks port facilities but Britain has offered amphibious vessels able to access the enclave's coastline without the need for special infrastructure.

Israel calls its long-standing Gaza blockade a precaution against arms reaching Hamas and other Palestinian militants by sea, and enforces it on any and all shipping.

An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman said ships taking part in aid deliveries through the corridor would be exempted from the blockade.

Reporting by Michele Kambas, Dan Williams and Emily Rose; editing by Mark Heinrich

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