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British and Cypriot aid heads to Gaza via Egypt

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Britain and Cyprus have sent 87 tonnes of aid to Gaza via Egypt, the two countries have said, with Cypriot officials saying they had successfully tested a screening mechanism for cargoes offering an alternative route for badly needed supplies.

 

The January 1 delivery to Port Said in Egypt for transfer to Gaza through the Rafah border crossing fell short of Cyprus’ ultimate objective to establish a direct aid corridor to the Israel-besieged Palestinian enclave. But, for the first time, it offered a workaround on how aid could be accelerated by eliminating security checks in Israel itself, officials said.

The shipment includes 10,770 thermal blankets, 4,805 shelter packs as well as 10 tons of pharmaceutical products contributed by Cyprus.

The Cypriot initiative to create a sustained, one-way sea route into Gaza entails aid undergoing security checks in Cyprus by government agencies, including from Israel, before being dispatched onwards from the eastern Mediterranean island.

 

“The international community now has a workable alternative at its disposal to send additional humanitarian aid to the population of Gaza,” Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides said in a written statement.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said Britain was committed to supporting the people of Gaza.

“Significantly more aid needs to reach Gaza to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people,” he said.

Israel is waging a nearly 12-week-old offensive on Gaza in retaliation for a cross-border killing and kidnapping spree by Hamas militants. Israeli bombardments have reduced much of the territory to rubble, killing at least 22,000 people and causing a humanitarian disaster with most of the 2.3 million population homeless and acutely short of food, water, medicine and fuel.

 

Eli Cohen, Israel’s outgoing foreign minister, said on Sunday his country was prepared to let ships deliver aid to the war-ravaged enclave “immediately.”

Cyprus, situated some 370 km northwest of Gaza, is the closest European Union member state to the region. Its plan is meant to expand capacity for humanitarian relief to the Gaza Strip beyond limited deliveries now being made overland through Rafah.

Any direct sail to Gaza with Israel’s consent would mark the first easing of an Israeli naval blockade first imposed on Gaza in 2007 after Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas seized control of the coastal enclave.

But underscoring logistical challenges, the Lyme Bay, the British Royal Fleet auxiliary ship which offloaded thermal blankets, shelter packs and medicine in Egypt, was at sea for at least 10 days awaiting clarity as to whether it could sail directly to Gaza, individuals with knowledge of the situation said.

The direct route is not currently executable due to requirements including security matters which have “not been met at this point in time,” one of those sources said.

“The situation is very dynamic and we will continue to deliberate with all relevant stakeholders on the best time and way to operationalise the initiative,” the source said.