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Aid corridor a ‘golden opportunity’ for Cyprus

feature elias main wck handing over aid to people in gaza
WCK handing over aid to people in Gaza.

But caution expressed about Amalthea sea corridor stopping aid arriving in Gaza by land or taking attention from larger problems

Despite the hype over the humanitarian aid corridor to Gaza, the logistics for which picked up steam during a gathering in Larnaca on Thursday, some commentators as well as human rights groups suspect the endeavour might have a darker side to it – in that it would give Israel an alibi of sorts, distracting from the badly needed distribution of aid via land routes.

A former Cypriot diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, had this to say: “The maritime corridor does indeed take the pressure off Israel, while land routes are being stifled. Whether the Cyprus government realises this is an unknown. But certainly, this initiative is a golden opportunity for the president and the government, as they can show they are doing something about Gaza.”

The source added: “All efforts and initiatives should focus on stopping the hostilities, the killing of people, then look at ways of sending food and medicine. The number one priority is to stop the war.”

At the gathering in Larnaca, Chief of Staff and Executive Secretary of the White House National Security Council Curtis Ried explained the nuts and bolts of the initiative.

Ried said the US Navy will construct a temporary jetty on the shore of Gaza, at a designated landing site. A floating dock 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.

Nicosia has sold hard the notion that the sea passage was its idea all along, and has broadcast the fact that it got several partners to come on board. The Larnaca conference was attended by representatives of 35 nations.

The government also made much of a letter sent to President Nikos Christodoulides by the US President. In the letter, delivered by Ried, Joe Biden “singled out the leadership, vision and determination shown by Christodoulides towards implementation of the extremely important maritime corridor for the provision of humanitarian aid to Gaza from Cyprus.”

feature elias aid from the first boat to use the corridor reaches the people of northern gaza
Aid from the first boat to use the corridor reaches the people of northern Gaza

One can second-guess all day long who ‘owns’ the proposal for the corridor. It was first mooted back in October. But the Jerusalem Post recently reported the plan was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s idea, citing an unnamed “senior diplomatic source”.

Netanyahu had reportedly first proposed the plan to Biden in October, and pressed the issue again with the US president in January.

“This source, close to the prime minister, insinuated that Biden was simply implementing a plan by Netanyahu, not actually initiating anything new,” the Jerusalem Post reported.

During the State of the Union address on March 7, Biden announced plans to build a “temporary pier” off the Mediterranean coast of Gaza to establish a maritime corridor of aid between Gaza and the rest of the world.

Professor of history and political science at the University of Nicosia Hubert Faustmann told the Cyprus Mail that – image-wise at least – the Amalthea Initiative is a master stroke for Cyprus.

It’s a major foreign policy success for Cyprus, but the tragedy is it took six months to start implementing it. Initially the idea was dismissed as a PR stunt, but now that circumstances have changed – the fastly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza – it’s seen as a success for Cyprus and Christodoulides personally. And perception matters.”

The expert went on to add: “What should not happen – and I’m not saying this is the case – is for the sea corridor to be used as an excuse not to allow more humanitarian aid via land routes, because for the foreseeable future supplies through the maritime corridor will be insufficient.”

feature elias aid from the open arms, the first vessel to use the corridor, being offloaded in gaza
Aid from the Open Arms, the first vessel to use the corridor, being offloaded in Gaza.

Remarks by senior Israeli officials strongly suggest Israel endorses the maritime initiative. For example, on December 20 last year Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz was quoted as saying: “The creation of a maritime corridor to Gaza will help Israel’s economic disengagement from the Strip.”

And on December 27, the Jewish News Syndicate website said the sea corridor would “replace the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings, so that civilian supplies will no longer be transferred through Israel, both during and after the war.”

According to Faustmann, there are indeed reasons why Israel would welcome the maritime corridor.

“A fringe benefit for the Israelis is that by getting all the aid in by sea, which they will control, it denies Hamas any leverage in the distribution of aid inside Gaza,” he said.

“It therefore breaks up the civil role of Hamas, an organisation the Israelis intend to dismantle. Perhaps that is what Katz meant… but we can only speculate.”

The Cyprus Mail tried to reach out to the foreign ministry for a comment, but did not get one in time for this report.

And there are other data pointing to the maritime corridor playing into Israel’s broader plans for the Gaza Strip. Earlier this month, while touring Gaza’s coast in a naval vessel, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant expressed enthusiasm about the plans for a maritime corridor.

“The process is designed to bring aid directly to the residents and thus continue the collapse of Hamas’ rule in Gaza,” he said.

Υπουργός Εξωτερικών – Συνάντηση Α
Organisation from 35 countries were in Cyprus on Thursday to discuss the Amalthea plan.

Gallant was reportedly briefed alongside the Israeli navy commander and the head of Cogat, Israel’s bureaucratic arm of the military occupation, about the logistics of building the port.

It was the same Gallant who announced on the third day of Israel’s campaign in Gaza that Israel would be “imposing a complete siege on [Gaza]. No electricity, no food, no water, no fuel – everything is closed.”

On March 20, Arab news outlets reported that Netanyahu suggested the US-built makeshift port off Gaza could be used to deport Palestinians. The Israeli leader is supposed to have made the comments at a private meeting of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee.

His alleged remarks were reported on by Yaara Shapira, the parliamentary correspondent for Israeli news outlet Kan News.

Netanyahu reportedly said: “We are looking into how to distribute the aid in Gaza through non-local entities because Hamas failed the attempts to distribute it through local entities. Private companies are also being investigated. As far as the state of Israel is concerned, there is no obstacle for the Gazans to leave, perhaps even the port they are building could be used for this, but there are no countries in the world that are ready to receive them.”

Meanwhile a member of the public brought to our attention a video clip from a security conference held in 2015 in Herzliya, Israel. There, Katz – then transport minister – presented in an animation a similar plan for Gaza with a jetty and floating dock.

Both Cypriot and American officials have been at pains to emphasise the maritime corridor will not substitute, but rather complement the land routes which Israel has been accused of blocking – accusations levelled including by High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell.

Satellite images show thousands of aid trucks stuck at the Rafah crossing with Egypt, unable to enter Gaza.

Earlier, 25 charities and human rights groups, including Amnesty International, issued a statement that “States cannot hide behind airdrops and efforts to open a maritime corridor to create the illusion that they are doing enough to support the needs in Gaza.”

feature elias the floating platform outside gaza
The floating platform outside Gaza.

The US plan for a temporary pier in Gaza “is a glaring distraction from the real problem: Israel’s indiscriminate and disproportionate military campaign and punishing siege,” Doctors Without Borders said.

Meanwhile, questions are being asked online about World Central Kitchen, the charity founded by celebrity chef Jose Andres that provided the goods for the tugboat that recently docked in Gaza.

World Central Kitchen’s board of directors includes Ray Maybus, former US Secretary of the Navy and current member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

In its return form for the year 2021, the Washington DC-based non-profit reported net assets of $112,406,525 and public support amounting to $122,797,607.

Some commentators have suggested WCK may in fact be a front for American ‘soft power’ as the organisation has an active presence wherever US national security interests are involved – Haiti, Ukraine and now Israel/Gaza.

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