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Gaza to get aid by sea as int'l effort to get humanitarian relief gathering pace

By AFP - Mar 09,2024 - Last updated at Mar 09,2024

Wounded Palestinians arrive for treatment at the Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital after Israeli bombardment in Deir Balah in the central Gaza Strip on Saturday (AFP photo)

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories — An international effort gathered pace on Friday to get desperately needed humanitarian relief into Gaza by sea, in the latest bid to counter overland access restrictions blamed on Israel as it battles Hamas fighters.

The dire conditions more than five months into the war have led some countries to airdrop food and other assistance over the besieged Gaza Strip.

In the Cypriot port of Larnaca, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen expressed hope that a maritime corridor could open this Sunday, though crucial details of the planned operation remained unclear.

She said that "an initial pilot operation" would be launched on Friday, and the United Arab Emirates had helped activate the corridor "by securing the first of many shipments of goods to the people of Gaza".

Her announcement came after US President Joe Biden, in Thursday’s annual State of the Union address, said that the US military would establish a “temporary pier” off Gaza’s coast to bring in aid.

On Friday, Biden told reporters that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must allow in more aid.

“Yes he does,” he said when asked if Netanyahu needed to do more to let relief into the Palestinian territory.

The United Nations has repeatedly warned of looming famine in the long-blockaded Gaza Strip, which has been under Israeli siege since the Hamas attack of October 7 triggered the war.

UN agencies have urged increased overland access, insisting that air or sea delivery was ineffective.

Biden admitted that hopes for a new truce deal before Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month that could begin on Sunday depending on the lunar calendar, were “looking tough” as he warned Israeli leaders against using aid as “a bargaining chip”.

‘No compromise’

After a week of talks with mediators in Cairo failed to produce a breakthrough, Hamas’s armed wing said it would not agree to a hostage-prisoner exchange without the withdrawal of Israeli forces.

“Our top priority to reach a prisoner exchange deal is the complete commitment for the halt of aggression and an enemy withdrawal, and there is no compromise on this,” Ezzedine Al Qassam Brigades spokesman Abu Obeida said.

Hamas negotiators left the Cairo talks to consult with the movement’s leadership in Qatar, but US ambassador to Israel Jack Lew denied negotiations had “broken down”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: “The ball is in their court,” as he held Washington talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause.

Israel, which withdrew from Gaza in 2005 but has maintained control over its airspace and territorial waters, said it “welcomes” the planned maritime corridor.

With no functioning ports in Gaza, officials did not say where initial shipments would go, whether they would be subject to inspection by Israel or who would be tasked with distributing aid.

A US administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity to brief reporters ahead of Biden’s speech, said a “number of weeks” would be required before aid deliveries to the planned pier could begin.

US officials said the effort announced by Biden builds on the maritime aid corridor proposed by Cyprus — the closest European Union member to Gaza.

Aid ‘directly’ to north Gaza

But Michael Fakhri, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, said Washington’s “absurd” pier proposal would not “prevent starvation and famine by any definition”.

The Biden administration official said Israel has agreed to open a new land crossing that would “allow for aid to flow directly to the population in northern Gaza”, starting “over the coming week”.

British foreign minister David Cameron said “we need 500 trucks a day or more going into Gaza”, but the past five days have averaged just 123.

“That needs to be fixed now,” he told BBC radio, also calling on Israel to ensure the “full resumption” of water and electricity supplies.

The situation is particularly acute in Gaza’s north, where desperate residents have swarmed the aid trucks that do make it in to the territory.

On February 29, more than 100 Palestinians were killed when Israeli forces opened fire on crowds scrambling for aid from a convoy in north Gaza, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

Israel’s military on Friday said that its initial investigation found troops “fired precisely” at suspects who posed a threat to them.

Roughly 1.5 million Palestinians have sought refuge in Rafah, in Gaza’s far south, but there, too, they are not safe.

At the city’s Al Najjar hospital, a man held the body of a child killed in a bombardment, shrouded in a blood-soaked white cloth.


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