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Cyprus will continue with Gaza aid operation despite deaths, ships return (update 5)

aid supply ship from cyprus reaches gaza coast but weather slows delivery
World Central Kitchen barge loaded with food arrives off the Gaza coast

This has turned out “to be a very sad day,” President Nikos Christodoulides said on Tuesday after seven members of the World Central Kitchen NGO were killed in an Israeli attack but he pledged the humanitarian aid corridor from Cyprus to Gaza would continue.

Christodoulides was speaking as he welcomed European Parliament head Roberta Metsola to the joint rescue and coordination centre (JRCC) in Larnaca, which acts as hub for the Amalthea initiative delivering aid to civilians in Gaza by sea.

“We must use all our resources to get answers, to bring in more relief. Humanitarian organisations like World Central Kitchen must be protected,” Metsola said.

An Israeli strike hit a convoy carrying a WCK team which had just unloaded more than 100 tons of food aid brought to Gaza via the maritime route from Cyprus late on Monday night.

The exact effect the incident will have on the sea corridor remains to be seen, after WCK said its activities in the area had been suspended following the attack.

However, the three ships that left on Saturday which were being unloaded as the strike hit on Monday night turned round on Tuesday and headed back to Cyprus.

Christodoulides joined calls by others for a full investigation into the incident.

World Central Kitchen is one of our crucial partners in sending much-needed humanitarian assistance to Gaza and in […] the Amalthea Initiative. I express our sincere condolences to the WCK and the countries which have lost their citizens and we call for an immediate and complete investigation,” Christodoulides said.

“The tragic events of last night prove once again that this is not a regional crisis of limited concern or impact. Its effects reverberate across the region”.

Christodoulides went on to say that it was necessary to redouble efforts for peace in the face of the tragedy.

Metsola’s presence at the centre signalled the support of 400 million EU citizens concerned about the severely deteriorating condition in Gaza, Christodoulides added.

The president went on to state that safeguarding humanitarian aid workers was non-negotiable under international law, and that the international community must uphold this principle.

The president reiterated the developments of the Amalthea initiative, intended to make the flow of food and other much-needed aid to Gaza “stable and predictable”, such as activation of the “Amalthea fund” and construction of a pier by US forces on the Gaza coast.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Theodoros Gotsis said that the three vessels, the Open Arms, the Jennifer, and the Ledra Dynamics, as well as the Ares barge, turned back to return to the Larnaca port on Tuesday.

“Only the barge, which was carrying around 100 tonnes of aid, was successfully unloaded,” Gotsis told the Cyprus Mail.

“That means that around 240 tonnes of aid have not been unloaded from the vessels.”

The 100 tonnes of aid had not been distributed. The WCK workers were hit when they were leaving a warehouse in Gaza after completing their shift.

“We don’t exactly know why this happened, how it happened, what the rationale was, or whether it was a mistake or not,” Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos said.

The authorities of the Republic have been in contact with WCK at all levels, as well as with officials from Israel, the US and the United Arab Emirates,” he added.

“Our system here worked according to the plan, the transportation worked according to the plan, the unloading as well. Questions will now need to be answered by the Israelis.”

Later in the day, an official joint statement released by the United Arab Emirates and the Republic of Cyprus strongly denounced “all acts of violence against humanitarian workers who dedicate their lives to serving those in need.”

It said that “targeting humanitarian aid staff is a flagrant violation of all international treaties that ensure the protection of relief and rescue workers.”

The statement also called on Israel to exercise restraint.

Humanitarian workers should be able to carry out this vital work safely and without fear of losing their lives,” the statement concluded.

The Palestinian Embassy in Cyprus said the state of Israel was acting with impunity and spreading fear and horror throughout the world.

“When Israel massacres civilian volunteers of a humanitarian aid organisation that has transported over 100 tonnes of food, the feeling is one for all humanity: HORROR,” it said.

Earlier on Tuesday, Government Spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis said the incident must be condemned by the entire international community.

Speaking after an extraordinary meeting of the national security council, Letymbiotis made possibly the strongest statement yet by a government official vis-à-vis Israel’s activities in Gaza, calling the act “absolutely reprehensible”.

Asked if a protest would be issued against Israel, the spokesman said, “we await a full investigation into the circumstances under which this incident occurred.”

Regarding the status of the Cyprus sea-corridor, Letymbiotis assured that the Amalthea initiative was set to continue and would not be affected.

Following the arrival of three humanitarian aid ships from Cyprus to the Gaza coast, Letymbiotis said earlier stated that humanitarian aid was being collected and, as soon as conditions permitted, a third shipment would be sent.

Weather conditions had slowed delivery of the previous cargo.

“This [incident] does not affect [the initiative] but security conditions must be taken into account and all involved [must] continue with due diligence,” the spokesman said, adding that despite a temporary pause out of respect for the victims, the needs of civilians in Gaza have not stopped.

The situation will be fully assessed, a “re-coordination” will take place, and the effort would continue, Letymbiotis said.

WCK said its team was travelling in a deconflicted zone in two armoured cars branded with the WCK logo and a soft skin vehicle and was acting in coordination with the Israeli armed forces.

According to the statement, the workers were from Australia, Poland, Britain, one had dual US-Canadian citizenship and one was Palestinian.

“This is not only an attack against WCK, this is an attack on humanitarian organisations showing up in the most dire of situations where food is being used as a weapon of war. This is unforgivable,” WCK CEO Erin Gore said.

“[We] lost beautiful lives today because of a targeted attack by the IDF. The love they had for feeding people, the determination they embodied to show that humanity rises above all, and the impact they made in countless lives will forever be remembered and cherished,” Gore added.

 

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