By Tom Cleaver and Elias Hazou

 

Dignitaries from 35 countries and representatives of various international organisations descended on Larnaca on Thursday for a meeting over the Amalthea initiative – Cyprus’ humanitarian aid corridor to Gaza.

The meeting took place at the Zenon coordination centre, with dignitaries discussing possible ways to alleviate the ongoing food crisis impacting Gaza as conflict rages on in the enclave.

Attendees included representatives from the G7 countries, the United Nations, the European Union and NGOs.

The purpose … is to see how our level of organisation can be strengthened, both at the point of departure and in terms of strengthening our capacity on the waterways, as well as in terms of receiving and distributing aid,” Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos later told reporters.

The minister said the creation of a common fund was also discussed, with the aim “being able to provide the necessary financial support required for the continued operation of this effort”.

On the fund, he said discussions are ongoing regarding the issue of how the money will be channelled and managed.

Additionally, the Netherlands have already pledged €10 million to the fund. Kombos did make it clear, however, that “today is not a meeting we called to announce monetary contributions to the fund.”

Meanwhile speaking in Brussels, President Nikos Christodoulides spoke of “indications” that the EU would contribute €70 million to the fund initially.

Asked to respond to criticism that the sea corridor distracts from the need to open additional land routes to Gaza, the president said: “In no way. The maritime humanitarian corridor complements other humanitarian corridors, and of course all available routes must be opened.”

Back in Cyprus, and commenting on the state of the Jennifer – the second humanitarian aid ship to be sent to Gaza which is currently moored in Larnaca with 500 tonnes of aid on board – Kombos said the ship’s departure has been delayed due to inclement weather.

The vessel was expected to leave towards the end of this week or early next week. The government is “using the time as an opportunity to increase the amount that will be transported”.

With this in mind, Cyprus’ top diplomat said another meeting will be held in which “the technical issues should be more carefully looked at.”

Speaking on the matter of future weather issues and his hopes for the next steps of the corridor, he said the government would aim if possible for ships to “be departing every day when weather conditions improve”.

Regarding the jetty to be constructed off Gaza, the minister said that once completed it will “significantly increase Gaza’s capacity to receive aid”, but went on to add that Cyprus’ effort is “not dependent on its construction”.

In grosser terms, he said Thursday’s meeting is “a confirmation of international interest” in the aid corridor.

“This effort has begun, and the purpose now is to maintain it in such a way which can provide the necessary assistance to the people of Gaza. It is a lifeline which must be maintained and strengthened with the help of all who are taking part in this great effort.”

Around 200 tonnes of food and other aid have already arrived in Gaza on the ship the Open Arms, which unloaded its cargo last week.

The 500 tonnes of aid aboard the Jennifer include sugar, flour, pasta, canned food, milk, and a crane which will make unloading the aid easier.

After Thursday’s meeting in Larnaca, Kombos was scheduled to meet with the head of the United States’ National Security Council Curtis Ried and the United Arab Emirates’ Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem Al Hashimy.

In his own remarks at the news conference in Larnaca, the US official provided more details about the endeavour.

Ried said the US military has set a timetable of May 1 for completing the receiving infrastructures off the Gaza Strip.

These sea-based efforts “can and should be” part of immediate efforts to increase the flow of aid, via all possible routes, including the Israeli port of Ashdod.

Washington meanwhile continues to “daily” urge the Israeli government to open up more routes on land.

We’ll continue stressing the urgent need for a ceasefire that will facilitate the release of hostages and increasing humanitarian aid to Gaza,” Ried added.

Explaining the specifics, Ried said the US Navy will construct a temporary jetty connecting to the shore of Gaza, at a designated landing site. A floating platform will be located a few nautical miles off the shore, and ships would unload their cargo onto this platform. From there, the aid would be ferried to the jetty.

Arrangements would need to be made to secure the unloading site on land, but no US personnel would set foot on the territory of Gaza. The Israeli army would play “an important role” in establishing a wide area and securing the external perimeter.

We’re also talking with various countries about the prospect of acting as security partners within this perimeter,” Ried said.

Trucks would come into the designated pickup zone next to the jetty, load up with the goods, then exit the zone and unload the items at a nearby location. Next trucks with Palestinian drivers from Gaza would come in and receive the goods.

Noting that the United States plans to make the jetty operational for a number of months, Ried spoke of thoughts of upgrading the jetty at some point “once there are facilities built on land by the partners, facilities that will be useful at a later stage to be used as warehouses”.

In other comments, the US official said the United Nations possesses the best aid distribution network within Gaza.

“We’d like to find a UN organisation to work with, and with whom this initial reception and storage facility would happen.”

Asked whether this might change interaction with Unrwa (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) in the future, Ried said the US government has “serious concerns” regarding Israeli claims about agency personnel involvement in the October 7 events.

But for the time being “we need to keep using the Unrwa distribution network in Gaza, as there is no way to replace it quickly.”