A ship carrying 200 tonnes of aid for Gaza left Cyprus on Tuesday in a pilot project to open a sea corridor to deliver supplies to a population that aid agencies say is on the verge of famine after five months of war.

While welcoming the project, however, senior U.N. officials said it could not replace the delivery of humanitarian aid by land from Egypt and Jordan. Separately, the World Food Programme (WFP) said on Tuesday it had managed to get the first aid convoy into Gaza City in the north of the Gaza Strip since Feb. 20.

The charity ship Open Arms was seen sailing out of Larnaca port, towing a barge containing flour, rice and protein. The mission was funded mostly by the United Arab Emirates and organised by U.S.-based charity World Central Kitchen (WCK).

The voyage to Gaza takes about 15 hours but a heavy tow barge could considerably lengthen the trip, possibly up to two days. Cyprus, the European Union state closest to the Israel-Hamas war, is just over 200 miles (320 km) northwest of Gaza.

The U.S. military said one of its vessels, the General Frank S. Besson, was also en route to provide humanitarian relief to Gaza by sea. Separately, the U.S. military said it airdropped aid into northern Gaza on Tuesday along with Jordan’s airforce.

With aid agencies saying deliveries into Gaza by land have been held up by bureaucratic obstacles and security concerns since the start of the war on Oct. 7, attention has shifted towards alternative routes including sea and air drops.

Qatar’s foreign ministry spokesperson Majed Al-Ansari said on Tuesday that negotiators seeking a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which controls Gaza, were not close to a deal.


Given the lack of port infrastructure in Gaza, WCK said it was building a landing jetty with material from destroyed buildings and rubble, an initiative separate to a plan announced by U.S. President Joe Biden last week to build a temporary pier.

Construction of the jetty is “well underway”, WCK founder Jose Andres said in a post on X accompanied by a picture of bulldozers apparently levelling out ground close to the sea.

WCK Activation Manager Juan Camilo Jimenez told Reuters a second vessel would depart from Cyprus within the next few days.

Aid agencies say such efforts can provide only limited relief as long as most land crossings to the coastal Palestinian enclave are completely sealed off by Israel.

Some Gazans also struck a sceptical note about aid deliveries by sea, worrying it could become an alternative to overland shipments.

“I am not a political analyst but I think (the jetty idea) has political objectives which are not known to us, as Palestinian citizens,” said Jehad Assad, a displaced Palestinian from Khan Younis in central Gaza.

“I think the land crossings are enough for aid to enter the Gaza Strip.”

Israel says it is not to blame for Gaza’s hunger, as it is allowing aid through two crossings at the southern edge of the territory. Aid agencies say that is not enough to get sufficient supplies through, particularly to the northern part of the enclave that is effectively cut off.

Commenting on Tuesday’s aid delivery to the north of the Gaza Strip, WFP spokesperson Shaza Moghraby said: “We were finally able to deliver enough food for 25,000 people to Gaza City in the early hours of this morning. This… proves that moving food by road is possible.”

Gaza’s health ministry said the number of Palestinians who have died of dehydration and malnutrition in the last two weeks had reached 27, after the deaths of two people on Tuesday.

The U.N. estimates a quarter of the 2.3 million population in the small coastal enclave is now at risk of starvation.

“We are being starved in two ways: food is scarce, and the little that is available is so expensive as to be beyond imagination,” said Yamen, a father of four, whose family took shelter in Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza.


The conflict has displaced most of Gaza’s population and there have been chaotic scenes and deadly incidents at aid distributions as desperately hungry people scramble for food.

On Tuesday, Palestinian health officials reported that nine Palestinians were killed and dozens wounded by Israeli gunfire as crowds awaited aid trucks on Kuwait Square in Gaza City. There was no immediate comment from Israel on the incident.

The war erupted after fighters from Hamas killed 1,200 people in a lightning Oct. 7 attack on Israel and took 253 hostages back to Gaza, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel’s retaliatory military campaign has killed at least 31,184 Palestinians and injured 72,889, according to Gaza authorities.

Israel says it is interested only in a temporary truce to free hostages. Hamas says it will let them go only as part of a deal to permanently end the war.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated on Tuesday that Israel would press its military campaign into Rafah at the southern end of Gaza where 1.5 million people have sought shelter.

“We will finish the job in Rafah while enabling the civilian population to get out of harm’s way,” he said in a video address to a conference of the pro-Israel AIPAC organization in Washington. He did not say where the civilians might go.

Cautioning Israel against any such move, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Biden believed the path to peace in the region “does not lie in smashing into Rafah…in the absence of a credible plan to deal with the population there”.