May 19, 2024

Delivery will barely make a dent in Gaza’s starvation crisis, as Israel steps up attacks on aid seekers in the enclave.

An aid ship loaded with food has departed Cyprus heading for Gaza, after days of delay.

The Open Arms, owned by a charity of the same name, left Larnaca port early on Tuesday, towing a barge containing about 200 tonnes of flour, rice and protein. The voyage is a test of a planned sea corridor to carry aid to a population on the brink of starvation.

Mostly funded by the United Arab Emirates, the mission is organised by United States-based charity World Central Kitchen (WCK).

The 210 nautical mile (390km) voyage across the eastern Mediterranean to Gaza with a heavy tow barge could take up to two days, Cypriot officials have said.

Open Arms’ journey will test a planned sea corridor for getting aid into Gaza that was announced by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides last Friday in Larnaca.

“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.

With no port infrastructure in the enclave, WCK says it is building a landing jetty in Gaza with material from destroyed buildings and rubble.

Andres said that the construction is “well underway” in a post on X.

Another 500 tonnes of aid amassed in Cyprus is ready to be dispatched, the statement added.

Attacks on aid seekers

The initial delivery will have little effect on the chronic food shortage in Gaza.

At least half a million, or one in four people in Gaza, are facing famine as the holy month of Ramadan gets under way.

Israel implemented a total blockade of Gaza in October and has allowed very little aid in by road. Countries including Jordan and the US have conducted air drops of aid, but that strategy is unlikely to be effective enough.

Meanwhile, what aid is getting through has resulted in more deaths as the Israeli military has mounted increasingly frequent attacks on aid seekers.

At least nine people were killed on Tuesday, with dozens more wounded, while waiting for aid trucks near the Kuwait Roundabout in Gaza City.

“This has unfortunately become the new normal for aid seekers and hungry Palestinians stranded in the northern part of Gaza City,” reported Al Jazeera’s Hani Mahmoud from Rafah in southern Gaza.

“We’ve seen this happening almost on a daily basis now. People get together, wait for food supplies and get attacked by the Israeli military.”

At the end of last month, at least 112 people were killed in the so-called “flour massacre” when Israeli troops opened fire on hundreds seeking food.

A Palestinian child tries to pick up spilled flour during aid distribution in north Gaza. [Screengrab/Al Jazeera]
A Palestinian child tries to pick up spilled flour during aid distribution in north Gaza [Screengrab/Al Jazeera]

Complex workarounds

The bid to establish the sea corridor complements another complicated workaround planned by the US to build a temporary pier off Gaza’s coast, a move criticised as an attempt to divert attention from Washington’s continued support for Israel as famine looms and the onslaught persists.

However, with the Israeli military maintaining a tight grip on the land borders, and airdrops seen as expensive and largely ineffective, aid deliveries by water are now viewed as key.

Palestinians run along a street as humanitarian aid is airdropped in Gaza City on March 1, 2024.
Palestinians run along a street as humanitarian aid is airdropped over Gaza City on March 1, 2024 [AFP]

Last week, five people were killed and several injured after a parachute landing a humanitarian airdrop failed to open, bringing a pallet crashing down into a crowd of people waiting for food north of Gaza City’s Shati refugee camp.

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