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Middle East Crisis: More Nations Join U.S.-Backed Effort to Send Aid to Gaza by Sea

The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and President Nikos Christodoulides of Cyprus at the port of Larnaca on Friday.Credit…Andreas Loucaides/Cypriot government’s Press and Information Office, via Agence France-Presse

Britain, the European Union and the United Arab Emirates will join the United States in opening a maritime route for humanitarian relief to Gaza, officials said on Friday, as a Western-backed effort to bring urgently needed aid to the territory by sea appeared to gather momentum.

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the E.U. executive body, and David Cameron, Britain’s foreign secretary, announced their participation hours after President Biden outlined a U.S. plan to build a temporary floating pier off Gaza’s Mediterranean coast to support the shipment of food, water, medicine and other necessities to desperate Palestinian civilians.

Ms. von der Leyen said that the first ship carrying aid could depart the E.U. nation of Cyprus for Gaza as soon as Friday, with more to follow on Sunday, although it was not immediately clear how or where the vessels would unload their cargo or how it would be distributed amid Israeli bombardment and attacks by hungry Palestinians on aid trucks.

Gaza does not have a functioning port, its coastal waters are too shallow for most vessels and U.S. officials have said it could take 30 to 60 days to set up the floating pier.

At a news conference in Cyprus, Ms. von der Leyen offered few details. Israeli officials have said they support the establishment of a maritime corridor as long as the goods can be checked “in accordance with Israeli standards” before leaving Cyprus. Israel has insisted on inspecting shipments into Gaza, arguing that aid could be diverted by Hamas.

Despite the many questions, U.S. and European officials emphasized the urgent need to open new routes for aid into Gaza, where relief agencies say that 2.2 million Palestinians are facing extreme hunger amid Israeli airstrikes and ground attacks against Hamas. In a joint statement, Britain, the E.U. and the United Arab Emirates said the maritime corridor must “be part of a sustained effort to increase the flow of humanitarian aid and commercial commodities into Gaza through all possible routes.”

For months, the United States and others have warned that Israel was not allowing sufficient aid by land into Gaza. Those concerns have multiplied in recent days, as Palestinian health officials reported that some Gazan children had died of malnutrition and the United Nations warned that more than 570,000 people are facing “catastrophic levels of deprivation and starvation.”

Aid officials say that sea shipments — and a limited number of airdrops conducted by the United States and other nations — cannot make up for the lack of supply routes by land. Only about 100 relief trucks entered Gaza each day in February, on average, through the two open land routes, a fraction of what was going in before the war began in October.

“We know the difficulties faced at the land borders in Gaza,” Ms. von der Leyen told reporters.

Mr. Cameron, in announcing that Britain would join the maritime effort, said in a social media post: “We continue to urge Israel to allow more trucks into Gaza as the fastest way to get aid to those who need it.”

Israeli officials have not said whether they would open more land routes into Gaza, as many aid agencies have called for, particularly into northern Gaza where relief deliveries have all but stopped because of insecurity. On Friday, Israel said it welcomed the establishment of a maritime corridor from Cyprus and called for other countries join the initiative.

“The Cypriot initiative will allow the increase of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, after security checks are carried out in accordance with Israeli standards,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

President Nikos Christodoulides of Cyprus said that “we simply have to unlock all possible routes” into Gaza, adding: “As a European Union member at the heart of the region, Cyprus bears a moral duty to do its utmost to assist in alleviating the humanitarian crisis.”

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