Effort To Send Gaza Aid By Sea Is Moving Ahead. But The First Ship Is Still In Cyprus.

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — A U.S. Army vessel carrying equipment for building a temporary pier in Gaza was on its way to the Mediterranean on Sunday, three days after U.S. President Joe Biden announced plans to increase aid deliveries by sea to the besieged enclave where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are going

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DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — A U.S. Army vessel carrying equipment for building a temporary pier in Gaza was on its way to the Mediterranean on Sunday, three days after U.S. President Joe Biden announced plans to increase aid deliveries by sea to the besieged enclave where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are going hungry.

The new push for aid came in the final hours before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which could start as early as Sunday evening, depending on the sighting of a crescent moon. Hopes for a new cease-fire by Ramadan faded days ago with negotiations apparently stalled.

The opening of the sea corridor, along with airdrops by the U.S., Jordan and others, showed growing alarm over Gaza’s deadly humanitarian crisis and a new willingness to bypass Israeli control over land shipments. Israel said that it welcomed the sea deliveries and would inspect Gaza-bound cargo before it leaves a staging area in nearby Cyprus.

But aid officials say that air and sea deliveries can’t make up for a shortage of supply routes on land. The daily number of aid trucks entering Gaza by land over the past five months has been far below the 500 that entered before the war.

A ship belonging to Spanish aid group Open Arms and carrying 200 tons of food aid was expected to make a pilot voyage to test the corridor “as soon as possible,” said spokesperson Linda Roth with partner organization World Central Kitchen. The ship remained at Cyprus’ port of Larnaca in what Roth called “a quickly evolving and fluid situation.”

Biden stepped up public criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying he believes that Netanyahu is “hurting Israel more than helping Israel” in his approach to the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, now in its sixth month.

Speaking Saturday to MSNBC, the U.S. president expressed support for Israel’s right to pursue Hamas after the militants’ Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel, but said that Netanyahu “must pay more attention to the innocent lives being lost.” He added that “you cannot have 30,000 more Palestinians dead.”

President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol, on March 7, 2src24, in Washington. A top European Union official is in Cyprus on Friday, March 8, 2src24, to inspect preparations for sending desperately needed aid to war-ravaged Gaza by sea, just hours after Biden announced that the U.S. military will set up a temporary port off Gaza's Mediterranean coast in support of such efforts.
President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol, on March 7, 2024, in Washington. A top European Union official is in Cyprus on Friday, March 8, 2024, to inspect preparations for sending desperately needed aid to war-ravaged Gaza by sea, just hours after Biden announced that the U.S. military will set up a temporary port off Gaza’s Mediterranean coast in support of such efforts.

Shawn Thew/Pool Photo via Associated Press

The Health Ministry in Gaza said that at least 31,045 Palestinians have been killed since the war began. The ministry doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants in its count, but says that women and children make up two-thirds of the dead. The ministry is part of the Hamas-run government, and its figures from previous wars have largely matched those of U.N. and independent experts.

Palestinian casualties continued to rise. The Civil Defense Department said that at least nine Palestinians, including children, were killed in an Israeli airstrike on a house in Gaza City late Saturday. Footage that it shared showed one rescuer placing the body of a dead infant on a sofa amid the wreckage.

Elsewhere, the bodies of 15 people, including women and children, were taken to the main hospital in the central town of Deir al-Balah on Sunday, according to an Associated Press journalist. Relatives said they were killed by Israeli artillery fire toward a tent camp for displaced Palestinians in the coastal area near the southern city of Khan Younis.

Israel rarely comments on specific incidents during the war. It maintains that Hamas is responsible for civilian casualties, because the militant group operates from within civilian areas.

Meanwhile, U.S. efforts began to set up the temporary pier in Gaza for sea deliveries. U.S. Central Command said a first U.S. Army vessel, the General Frank S. Besson, left a base in Virginia on Saturday and was on its way to the Eastern Mediterranean with equipment for construction.

U.S. officials said that it would likely be weeks before the pier is operational.

This handout picture released by the Spanish humanitarian NGO Proactiva Open Arms on March 9, 2src24 shows the vessel, also called Open Arms, docked in the Cypriot port of Larnaca. A spokeswoman for Open Arms, a charity whose boat docked three weeks ago in the Cypriot port of Larnaca, said
This handout picture released by the Spanish humanitarian NGO Proactiva Open Arms on March 9, 2024 shows the vessel, also called Open Arms, docked in the Cypriot port of Larnaca. A spokeswoman for Open Arms, a charity whose boat docked three weeks ago in the Cypriot port of Larnaca, said “everything will be ready to be able to set sail” later on March 9, though the ship is still stalled one day after the deadline. The Spanish aid group has partnered with US charity World Central Kitchen to prepare the first aid delivery via the sea route that the EU Commission hopes will open this weekend.

Proactiva Open Arms/AFP via Getty Images

The sea corridor is backed by the European Union together with the United States, the United Arab Emirates and other countries. The European Commission has said that U.N. agencies and the Red Cross will play a role.

The ship in Cyprus is expected to take two to three days to arrive at an undisclosed location. The World Central Kitchen spokesperson said that construction work began Sunday on the jetty for it at an undisclosed location in Gaza.

A member of the charity said on X, formerly Twitter, that once the ship’s barge reaches Gaza, aid would be offloaded by a crane, placed on trucks and driven to northern Gaza, which has been largely cut off from aid shipments and was the first focus of Israel’s military offensive.

Israel declared war on Oct. 7 after Hamas militants killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 250 hostages. Israel’s air and ground offensive has devastated large parts of Gaza and displaced about 80% of the population of 2.3 million.

The U.S. and regional mediators Egypt and Qatar had hoped to have a six-week cease-fire in place by Ramadan, but Hamas is holding out for assurances that a temporary truce will lead to an end of hostilities.

Mediators had hoped to alleviate some of the immediate crisis with the temporary cease-fire, which would have seen Hamas release some Israeli hostages, Israel release some Palestinian prisoners and aid groups be given access for a major influx of assistance into Gaza.

___

Samy Magdy reported from Cairo. Menelaos Hadjicostis contributed to this report from Nicosia, Cyprus.

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