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Aid ship to Gaza delayed – yet again (Updated)

open arms aid ship to gaza
Open Arms the aid ship docked in Larnaca preparing to carry food supplies to Gaza, March 11, 2024

An aid ship pegged to leave almost three days ago for Gaza from Cyprus was delayed again on Monday, due to ‘technical difficulties’ in unloading the relief.

The ship had originally been said to be leaving on Friday night as a pilot mission, as part of a visit of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to Cyprus to launch a humanitarian aid corridor.

Over the weekend, details about the exact departure became unclear, with the foreign ministry weighing in and saying that the ‘pilot mission’ was actually due to leave Sunday and be the inaugural mission for aid.

Then, earlier on Monday, the mission with around 150 tonnes of vital aid for Palestinians dire conditions was said to be leaving within the day.

However, information later emerged that the departure of the ship will be evaluated on Tuesday, as a technical difficulty exists with the fact a US unloading platform set to be built as an in-between step to the aid reaching Gaza is not ready.

With the ship still not having set sail, President Nikos Christodoulides called his counterpart in the UAE Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed on Monday evening.

Christodoulides expressed his thanks to Bin Zayed for his support, saying it was “catalytic in terms of the initiative’s implementation”.

He added that “intensive preparations” are ongoing for that implementation to materialise, though did not state exactly when that would happen.

At the same time, Government Spokesperson Konstantinos Letymbiotis said it is “only a matter of time” before the ship departs for Gaza.

He added that “planning is progressing normally” for the ship to set sail, and said Israeli checks of the vessel have been carried out “in accordance with all the protocols included in the initiative’s planning.”

He said there were “practical issues” which had caused the delay, citing “complexities” which require “both due diligence and due care”.

Aid is also set to be checked by Israeli authorities before being sent into Gaza.

The ship, Open Arms, is set to deliver around 150 tonnes of non-perishable foods, water and medical supplies.

The foreign ministry – in charge of the project on the Cypriot end – could not be reached for comment. But later in the day another government source told the Cyprus Mail that a structure is being built off the shore of Gaza, where the floating platform towed by the aid ship will dock.

The goods would be offloaded from the platform to this structure. Apparently the structure off Gaza is not ready yet. So the delay is down to purely “technical reasons”, the same sources said. They could not say for certain who is building the receiving structure off Gaza.

On Sunday, the US army dispatched a ship to send humanitarian aid to Gaza, days after President Joe Biden vowed to build a temporary pier to supply the besieged enclave.

The General Frank S. Besson left Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia “less than 36 hours after President Biden announced the US would provide humanitarian assistance to Gaza by sea,” the army said in a statement.

The logistics support vessel is “carrying the first equipment to establish a temporary pier to deliver vital humanitarian supplies,” it said.

Earlier, Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos said the technical difficulty which had held up the shipment was not considered serious and was not an issue at the Cypriot end of the operation, implying it had to do with security and logistical arrangements at the Gaza end.

State officials have repeated the exact time of the vessel’s departure would not be announced for security reasons.

Kombos said a second aid ship to be used to go to Gaza is currently awaited.

Meanwhile, the government is also preparing to participate as a key player in the [post-war] reconstruction in Gaza – which will be the next phase, he said.

Government spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis on Sunday had said the Open Arms loaded with humanitarian aid would depart from Larnaca “in the next few hours and stressed that the government was coordinating with Israel on the matter”.

“The vessel has been inspected, as required, by Cyprus’ authorities in accordance with all the protocols included in the planning.”

He added Cyprus “is in continuous contact with all involved parties aiming to achieve a reliable corridor for the unhindered provision of humanitarian aid to the civilian population of Gaza.”

The trip is expected to take two days until the aid reaches Gaza, and the vessel will carry an MMS Aris floating unit, as Gaza has no port structure.

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