The first humanitarian aid from Cyprus to Gaza is expected within hours on Friday to arrive in Egypt, in the form of pharmaceuticals and medical kits.

“The aid consists of 10 tonnes of medicines and is expected to arrive at Egypt’s Port Said by 1pm,” the head of the mission, organised by Volunteer Doctors of Cyprus, Eleni Theocharous told the Cyprus Mail.

The organisation, founded under the banner of the well-known humanitarian movement Médecins du Monde, has been delivering aid to occupied Palestinians for 45 years, Theocharous noted, and has carried out surgeries on 3,300 wounded persons in Gaza since 1994.

“Today’s mission is the very first aid Cyprus has actually managed to provide to Gaza and it is particularly poignant since it happens to fall on the anniversary of the ramming and sinking the humanitarian aid vessel Dignity by Israeli gunboats in 2008,” Theocharous said.

Fifteen years ago, the doctor had been present on the vessel as part of a 16-passenger crew, among them two other Cypriot volunteers, who hoped to treat some of those injured in four days of Israeli air strikes, after hospitals in the territory were overwhelmed at that time.

The ship’s crew also included doctors from Britain and Germany and human rights activists from the Free Gaza Solidarity Movement, who were trying to reach Gaza through an Israeli blockade of the territory. Also on board was former US House Rep Cynthia McKinney.

Despite international condemnation of the incident and the lodging of a formal complaint by then Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou, Israeli forces referred to the ramming incident as a “collision” and maintained it was of minor nature, and that it had occurred following a warning to the captain of the aid vessel.

“We were all ready to abandon ship and jump into the sea with our life jackets on,” Theocharous recalled. A French vessel towed the ship in the nick-of-time to the Lebanese port of Tyre, where it sank, the doctor described.

The current shipment of aid from Cyprus is to be received at Port Said by the Egyptian Red Crescent and a delegation from the Cyprus Embassy in Egypt from where it will be “transited” to Rafah on the border with Gaza.

Cyprus Mail reached out to the Palestinian Ambassador to Cyprus Abdallah Attari to ask how he had received the news of the apparent success of the shipment, for which he, along with others, including Cypriot Ambassador to Cairo Poly Ioannou, have been making intensive efforts to cut through red tape and other setbacks for a month and a half.

“It is not at all simple for anything to reach Gaza…for three months we have not been able to pass so much as a litre of milk to Palestinian children. Israeli forces check every single item through multiple means. Even aspirin is treated as potential dynamite,” Attari noted wryly.

Detailing the bureaucracy involved in the aid procedures, the ambassador noted that every item must be individually approved by Israel for entry, including lab sampling of substances, and that the approvals are secured by Egypt.

Asked about any optimism over the delivery of aid through the much-touted ‘Amalthia’ humanitarian sea-corridor, Attari responded that Palestinian trust of Israel’s genuine intentions on the matter was nil.

“When 1,200 Israelis are killed by Hamas, while 22,000 Palestinians simply ‘disappear’, what are we to hope for?” the ambassador asked pointing out the uneven choice of language-use in international media over the deaths of Palestinians and the reluctance to refer to ongoing Israeli aggression as genocide.

“We trust Cypriot good intentions, but we do not trust Israel,” Attari said, noting Palestinian fears that the humanitarian “aid corridor” in the hands of Israeli controllers and their sympathisers would become nothing more than a means of shipping out Palestinian refugees from Gaza, once the strip has been made completely uninhabitable for humans.

Referring to the vessel tasked with providing aid, ostensibly through the ‘Amalthia’ plan, the ambassador noted it had been “wondering through the seas” for ten days. The British naval vessel, identified as RFA Lyme Bay, was recently reported as having had to change its course due to “security concerns”.

“We [Palestinians] are not an orphan people, we have our statehood despite being occupied, and any aid to Palestine must be discussed first and foremost with the Palestinian authorities and not first with Israel. How can aggressors be trusted as the ones to negotiate provision of aid?” the ambassador wondered.

Volunteer Doctors of Cyprus is meanwhile undertaking the organising of a second shipment to Palestinians in Gaza and other territories occupied by Israel, this time of infant and baby foods.

More information on how the public can assist with the aid effort will be published by the Cyprus Mail as details become available.