Cyprus is preparing to send a second ship with aid to Gaza, while it is exploring creating a common fund to support the maritime corridor, Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos announced on Wednesday.

Kombos was making statements after a video conference with his US, UK, Qatar and UAE counterparts, along with UN and EU officials.

The maritime corridor “does not compete [with other aid routes]. It is complementary. The common goal is to ensure humanitarian aid reaches the people that need it as soon as possible,” he stressed.

The call which began at 7:30pm local time and lasted under an hour, saw all parties reiterate their commitment to Cyprus’ maritime humanitarian corridor to Gaza.

A second ship will be departing within the next few days “carrying almost exclusively food,” Kombos told reporters after the conference.

Slight delay

Asked whether the ship will leave depending on how the operation with the first ship unfolds, he specified there may be adjustments depending on how the aid distribution works.

Nonetheless, preparations are still being made in Larnaca in tandem so that when everything is ready, it can be launched when conditions allow.

As for the first ship, Kombos specified everything was going well although there is a slight delay. Without delving into specifics, the minister said it was related to the methodology to transport the shipment, as it is not the usual 12-14 hour trip.

There are also a slew of security matters.

‘All the help we can get’

Qatar will now be involved in the operations, while the US plans to build a pier in Gaza, Kombos stressed.

Commenting on Qatar’s importance, the minister said “right now we need help at all levels”. He added this is an extremely complex undertaking with many technical elements such as personnel, funding and management of aid arriving in Cyprus.

On the remark that Qatar is a “player” with Hamas and Hezbollah, Kombos said that Qatar is currently playing a role in issues of a very sensitive nature and therefore “we all understand that participation today was not a decision of ours alone. It is a joint decision by all, which implies that there was a pre-coordination, a common understanding on this issue.”

2 million meals

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the corridor, once established, would enable distribution of up to 2 million meals in Gaza, where aid agencies say the five-month long war between Israel and Hamas has driven much of the population to the brink of famine.

In a joint statement between Cyprus, the UAE, US, Qatar and UK, the ministers committed to “continue their engagement and send senior officials to Cyprus during the week of March 18 for in-depth briefings on the activation of the corridor.”

This includes US military planning efforts to establish a temporary pier, able to receive significant quantities of humanitarian assistance.

“Senior officials will also undertake consultations on the possibility of establishing a common fund to support the maritime corridor, and coordinate in-kind and financial contributions to its sustainment.”

The ministers reaffirmed that “this maritime corridor can—and must—be part of a sustained effort to increase the flow of humanitarian aid and commercial commodities into Gaza through all possible routes.”

This entails expanded land routes and continued aerial delivery.

The ministers underscored the need for Israel to open additional crossings so more aid can reach Gaza, including the North, and to ease overall customs restrictions to facilitate an increased flow of life-saving humanitarian assistance.

The teleconference hosted US Secretary of State Antony Blinken; European Union Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič; UK Secretary of State David Cameron; UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan; Qatar Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, and UN Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator for Gaza Sigrid Kaag.

EU experts

The European Commission has so far sent five officials to Cyprus, in the context of its operational support to the maritime humanitarian corridor to Gaza initiative, a spokesperson said on Wednesday.

“In terms of what we do on the ground, we’ve deployed now three civil protection experts, one liaison officer and one transport expert”, the spokesperson for humanitarian aid affairs, Balazs Ujvari said responding to questions by journalists.

The five officials will be in Cyprus “helping the logistical side of the ongoing efforts” he added. He pointed out that, as stated by President Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday, the Commission is “looking into providing additional aid via the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.”

Head spokesperson Eric Mamer clarified that through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, aid can be requested and then collected from donors, before being distributed.

Ujvari pointed out that the mechanism has been activated a number of times so far, for example through a request by Cyprus for shelters and sleeping bags, a request by Egypt for medical devices, a request by the WHO which asked from EU member states to provide medical experts and some medical items, and a request by the International Red Cross – Red Crescent for reverse osmosis units. The latest request, he added, came from World Food Program of the UN.