An Israeli attack on the southern Gazan town of Rafah “cannot happen”, Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos said on Monday.

Speaking at a joint press conference with his Canadian counterpart Melanie Joly, he said, “such a thing cannot happen or continue as the consequences will be catastrophic and irreversible.”

“We are asking for the full respect of international humanitarian law. We must ensure the full operation of the Rafah land crossing [to Egypt] and the full respect for the sanctity of human life,” he said.

He added, “we are asking for the maximum possible restraint and for the realisation that a key component in this regard is the immediate release of hostages.”

Reports of an imminent ground offensive into Rafah, where 1.5 million Palestinians are currently housed, have been circulating for days. Most of those in Rafah have already been displaced from elsewhere in Gaza.

On Monday, local residents had reported that tanks and troops had crossed a key highway on the outskirts of the town, though a full-scale military offensive as seen elsewhere in the strip in the last seven months has seemingly yet not materialised.

Kombos had spoken about the issue of Gaza in the context of Cyprus’ Amalthea plan – the transfer of humanitarian aid via the island to the strip.

He said he had explained to Joly “the complete process, the different steps and phases” of the plan.

We are now at a really important point in time,” he said, adding that the floating jetty to be placed off the coast of Gaza by the United States has now been completed.

“We are ready to make maximum use of it to escalate the volume of aid leaving Cyprus for Gaza,” he added.

He said that the jetty’s completion is “extremely important because the situation there is dramatic, the humanitarian needs are increasing, and we need to make sure we do everything we can to resolve this extremely problematic situation.”

Joly also intervened on the matter of the ongoing violence in Gaza, saying, “Canada’s position is clear: the violence must stop.”

She said, “we need a ceasefire now, the hostages need to be released, we need to make sure Hamas lays down its weapons and that aid needs to get to Gaza.”

Canada is deeply concerned about the devastating humanitarian situation in Gaza and we will continue to do everything possible to ensure that lifesaving aid reaches Palestinians in dire need,” she added.

In addition, she thanked Cyprus for its realisation of the Amalthea plan and for “the position of leadership it is taking in this regard.”

She also said Canada will support Cyprus to ensure the corridor succeeds, saying “we want to ensure we can participate”.

Looking ahead to the next steps regarding the Amathea plan, Kombos said “quite significant progress has been made”, and added that from Cyprus’ side, “everything is ready, everything has been done, and the protocols have been put in place.”

“I know the American jetty is basically ready to be installed,” he said, adding that he hopes it will be ready to be put into action for the first time “within the next few days.”

“That is going to be extremely important in terms of the ability we are going to have to send aid there, with distribution and monitoring,” he added.

For this reason, he said, the next few days will be “very important”.

“We are working closely with all our partners and trying to ensure that everything goes according to plan,” he added.

Outside of the issues of Gaza and the Amalthea plan, the pair touched on more routine matters of foreign policy, with Kombos saying Cyprus and Canada “have a common understanding that we share the same principles and values and are guided by respect for international law.”

This, he said, “is particularly important in times of turmoil and the crises we are facing.”

He also pointed out that next year will be the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Cyprus and Canada, and that “we share the political will to strengthen these relations in all sectors of the economy.”

He added that these sectors include trade, services, security, defence, gender equality, and maritime emergency services.

Additionally, he thanked Joly for Canada’s “position of authority” on the matter of the Cyprus problem and its contribution to the United Nations Peacekeeping force in Cyprus (Unficyp).

He pointed out that more than 30,000 Canadians have served in Unficyp since its establishment in 1964, and said Cyprus is “extremely grateful” for them.

Joly was in agreement, saying “there is a continued tradition of Canadians getting involved here to ensure that there is peace and security for Cypriots.”

She also made reference to her meeting with UN Special Representative and her compatriot Colin Stewart, saying Canada is “reaffirming its commitment to a political dialogue to ensure there will be peace and prosperity for Cypriots.”

With this in mind, she said Canada will pledge another CAN$100,000 (€67,823) to support Unficyp.

This, she said, “is part of our ongoing commitment to make sure we can support the mission, support the UN, and support the Cypriot government.”