Aid ship slowly heads for Gaza as calls for assistance grow

Aid ship slowly heads for Gaza as calls for assistance grow
The first boat loaded with humanitarian aid is heading for Gaza amid calls for assistance to increase.
5 min read
A first boat loaded food aid was making slow progress towards the Gaza Strip on Thursday [GETTY]

A first boat loaded with 200 tonnes of food aid was making slow progress towards the Gaza Strip on Thursday as efforts grew to bring more humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian territory besieged by Israel.

UNRWA, the leading UN aid agency in Gaza, said an Israeli strike a day earlier hit one of its warehouses in the southern city of Rafah, killing an employee. However, Israel later claimed a Hamas militant was killed in the rocket strike.

Donor nations, aid agencies and charities pushed on with efforts to rush food to the territory of 2.4 million people, where famine looms after more than five months of war.

Mediation efforts have so far failed to secure a new truce in the war triggered by Hamas's 7 October attack, and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant vowed again that Israeli forces "will reach every location" in their mission to destroy the Islamist group.

Israeli forces have carried out a relentless campaign of air strikes and ground operations in Gaza, killing at least 31,272 people, most of them civilians, according to the territory's health ministry.

The Spanish charity vessel Open Arms left Cyprus for Gaza on Tuesday, towing a barge with 200 tonnes of aid in the first voyage along a planned maritime corridor to Gaza.

According to the specialist website Marine Traffic, it was moving slowly south off the coast of Israel.

However, airdrops and efforts to open a maritime corridor were "no alternative" to land deliveries because they could only provide a fraction of the aid needed, 25 organisations, including Amnesty International and Oxfam, said in a statement Wednesday.

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In Gaza City, desperate Palestinians were awaiting the arrival of the Open Arms aid boat.

"They send aid, but when this aid arrives, there's no entity to distribute it," said Gaza City resident Eid Ayub, adding that aid by sea and air "is not enough".

Land routes needed

Cypriot Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos said on Wednesday a second aid ship "with bigger capacity" was being prepared in Larnaca.

On Wednesday, Kombos also hosted a virtual meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and senior ministers and officials from Britain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, the European Union and the United Nations to discuss the maritime corridor.

"The ministers agreed that there is no meaningful substitute to land routes via Egypt and Jordan and entry points from Israel into Gaza for aid delivery at scale," they said in a joint statement.

They also called on Israel to open the port of Ashdod, north of Gaza, for aid deliveries.

The statement said senior officials will gather in Cyprus on Monday for "in-depth" briefings on the corridor.

The Israeli military said the UN's World Food Programme had also sent an initial six aid trucks along an alternative land route from southern Israel through a gate in the security fence into northern Gaza on Tuesday.

'Supplies running out'

Israel's retaliatory bombardment and ground offensive have reduced much of Gaza's urban infrastructure to rubble.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said in a statement at least one staff member was killed and 22 wounded "when Israeli forces hit a food distribution centre in the eastern part of Rafah".

The agency's chief, Philippe Lazzarini, said the attack "comes as food supplies are running out, hunger is widespread and, in some areas, turning into famine".

Israel said later a Hamas militant was killed in a strike on Rafah and identified him as Muhammad Abu Hasna, one of four people the health ministry in Gaza said were killed in the strike on the UNRWA facility.

Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the United Nations secretary-general, told reporters that "the Israeli army received the coordinates... of this facility".

The Gaza health ministry said 79 people were killed in Gaza between Wednesday evening and Thursday morning. Among those were seven killed when Israeli troops opened fire on a group of people at Kuwait Junction, an aid distribution point just south of Gaza City.


Rafah, on Gaza's southern border with Egypt, has so far been spared a ground invasion, but the prospect of an Israeli operation there has sparked global alarm because it is crowded with almost 1.5 million Palestinians, most of them displaced.

Israeli officials have repeatedly threatened to send ground troops into the city, a warning reiterated by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday.

The dire food shortages in Gaza have killed 27 people through malnutrition and dehydration, most of them children, according to the Gaza health ministry.

President Joe Biden has ordered the US military to build a temporary pier off Gaza to unload aid, while five Arab and European countries have also parachuted food into Gaza.

Agnes Callamard, Amnesty's secretary general, said air drops and sea shipments of aid "are a sign of powerlessness and weakness on the part of the international community".

Weeks of talks involving US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators failed to bring about a deal for a new truce and hostage release before the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan this week.

Fahd al-Ghoul, a resident of Jabalia Camp in the north, said: "We have been fasting against our will for two months or more."

"Now with Ramadan, nothing changes in our reality," he said.