Gaza aid corridor from Cyprus could start this weekend, says EU president

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen is speaking during a joint media conference with Prime Minister of Belgium Alexander De Croo, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau, and President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, following their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 24, 2024, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The European officials and Canada’s Prime Minister are visiting the capital Kyiv on the second anniversary of the start of the Russian full-scale invasion in Ukraine. (Photo by STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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A sea corridor to take desperately needed aid from Cyprus to besieged Palestinians in Gaza could start this weekend, the European Union said on Friday.

U.S. President Joe Biden said on Thursday that a temporary port would be built in Gaza to facilitate a flow of aid by sea, initially from Cyprus.

“We are now very close to opening this corridor, hopefully this Saturday-Sunday, and I’m very glad to see an initial pilot operation will be launched today,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in the Cypriot port town of Larnaca, alongside Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides.

A shipment of food was due to be dispatched by the charity World Central Kitchen from Cyprus on Friday, with support from the United Arab Emirates.

The quantities of aid envisaged and the distribution logistics in Gaza were not immediately clear. Gaza has been under an Israeli naval blockade since 2007, when the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas seized control.

Cyprus is the closest EU member state to Gaza, some 370 km (230 miles) away. It has lobbied for months to launch the corridor, but faced challenges from the lack of port infrastructure in Gaza to security issues.

“The maritime corridor can make a real difference … but, in parallel, our efforts to provide assistance to Palestinians through all possible routes of course will continue,” Von der Leyen said.

The United Nations has said at least 576,000 people in Gaza – one quarter of its population – are on the brink of famine.

EU member states, the UAE, the United States and other partners are working together on the project, Von der Leyen said, singling out Christodoulides and UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan for their commitment.

“As the EU member at the heart of the region, Cyprus bears a moral duty to do its utmost … leveraging its role and excellent relations with all countries in the region,” Christodoulides said.

Under the arrangement, cargo would undergo security inspections on Cyprus, by a team including Israeli officials.

Cyprus tested an on-island screening mechanism in January, when British and Cypriot aid for Gaza was dispatched to Egypt.

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