Displaced Palestinians take shelter in a makeshift tent camp by the beach in Rafah near the border with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip on Jan. 16, 2024.

Displaced Palestinians take shelter in a makeshift tent camp by the beach in Rafah near the border with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip on Jan. 16, 2024. (Mohammed Abed, AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

(Tribune News Service) — The European Union and partners including the U.S. are set to launch a maritime aid corridor to Gaza as soon as this weekend — a means to get urgent aid to desperate civilians caught in the Israel-Hamas war.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited Cyprus to announce the initiative on Friday. The plan would see ships carry food and medical supplies from the Cypriot town of Larnaca across the Mediterranean Sea to Gaza, where the U.S. plans to set up a temporary port to receive shipments.

The efforts — including security checks — will be co-ordinated with Israel, which controls all but one of Gaza’s land borders as well as its territorial waters and airspace, according to a statement. The E.U. and the U.S. will also work with the U.K. and United Arab Emirates.

The move is seen as a way to top up the limited volumes of aid entering Gaza via the land border with Egypt after five months of war, which have seen Israel relentlessly bombard the enclave of 2 million people in pursuit of Hamas militants and infrastructure. The U.S. last week started airdrops of food, though that’s not seen as enough to arrest an increasingly dire humanitarian crisis.

“We are here because Palestinians, and in particular those in Gaza, need all our help,” von der Leyen said in a statement. “We are facing a humanitarian catastrophe.”

The E.U. is increasingly frustrated about the blocking of aid flows to the enclave, though the bloc remains split over its approach to Israel and its military campaign. E.U. leaders will address the Middle East crisis when they hold a summit in Brussels later this month, but it’s unclear whether they will be able to agree on a joint statement calling for a humanitarian pause or a cease-fire.

President Joe Biden said Thursday that he has ordered the military to create a temporary port on the Gaza coast, and used his State of the Union speech to call on Israel to let in more aid. However, U.S. officials said it could take weeks to build the facility.

The focus on delivering assistance comes as attempts to secure a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas — temporary or otherwise — have failed with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan fast approaching. Negotiations involving Israel, the U.S., Egypt and Qatar have led to a proposed six-week halt to fighting and the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in return for dozens of Israeli hostages, though Hamas is demanding a full withdrawal of Israel forces from Gaza.

Israel says it won’t stop its campaign until the Iran-backed militant group is destroyed. Hamas triggered the war with its Oct. 7 invasion of Israel, killing 1,200 people and abducting 250 more, and Israel’s retaliatory campaign as left more than 30,000 dead, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza.

Belgium, which holds the E.U.’s rotating presidency, conducted the first flight this week in an airdrop operation coordinated by Jordan aimed at delivering aid to Gaza. Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib said that the suffering of civilians is “unbearable.”

With assistance from Georgios Georgiou, Thomas Hall and Gwen Ackerman.

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.


Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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