Gaza maritime corridor could begin at weekend, EU says

Palestinians wait for aids to be airdropped, Deir al balahIMAGE SOURCE,GETTY IMAGES
Image caption,
A sea corridor to Gaza could begin as soon as this weekend, Ursula von der Leyen says

A maritime corridor to Gaza could begin operating this weekend to boost aid to the territory, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen says.

It comes a day after President Biden said the US planned to build a temporary port in Gaza.

The UN says a quarter of Gaza's population is on the brink of famine and children are starving to death.

On Friday reports said five people had been killed by airdropped aid whose parachutes did not deploy properly.

The BBC's US partner CBS quote an eyewitness and the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza as saying that the five people had been killed on Friday when at least one parachute failed to properly deploy and a parcel fell on them.

AFP also quoted a Gaza doctor as saying five people had been killed by an air drop.

The US and other nations have resorted to dropping aid in by air as conditions become increasingly dire, but aid organisations say the tactic is a last resort and can't meet the soaring need.

Speaking in Cyprus, Ms von der Leyen said Gaza was "facing a humanitarian catastrophe" and the sea corridor would enable the delivery of large quantities of additional aid.

A joint statement from the European Commission, Cyprus, the US, UK and UAE said operating a sea corridor would be "complex" and they would continue to press Israel to expand delivery of aid by road, facilitating more routes and opening additional crossings.

UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron said: "We continue to urge Israel to allow more trucks into Gaza as the fastest way to get aid to those who need it."

Israel welcomed the initiative and urged other countries to join it.

A foreign ministry spokesman said aid would be delivered after security checks were carried out "in accordance with Israeli standards".

However, the leader of aid agency Refugees International told the BBC that while welcome, the maritime route was unlikely to be able to deliver anything like enough food.

"This does not sound like it will come anywhere close to the scale that would be required to reverse the trajectory into famine that Gaza is now in," Jeremy Konyndyk said.

Israel denies impeding the entry of aid to Gaza and accuses aid organisations of failing to distribute it.

On Thursday, Mr Biden said the US military would construct a pier to transport supplies from ships at sea to the shore, but US officials said it would take "a number of weeks" to set up.

The operation - which he said would not include US troops on the ground in Gaza - would enable large ships to deliver food, water, medicine and temporary shelters.

The Pentagon says the US eventually aims to provide two million meals a day to Gazans.

Mr Biden said the pier would enable a "massive difference" in the amount of aid reaching Gaza, but added that Israel must "do its part" by allowing more aid to enter into the territory and to "ensure that humanitarian workers aren't caught in the crossfire".

But on Friday, an independent UN expert told a briefing in Geneva that it was "absurd" that a close ally of Israel was resorting to such measures.

Michael Fakhri, the special rapporteur on the right to food, said the port plan was likely to be a "performance" aimed more at a domestic US audience as the US presidential campaign gets under way.

Aid lorries have been entering the south of Gaza through the Egyptian-controlled Rafah crossing and the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing. But the north, which was the focus of the first phase of the Israeli ground offensive, has been largely cut off from assistance in recent months.

An estimated 300,000 Palestinians are living there with little food or clean water.

Last week more than 100 people were killed trying to reach an aid convoy amid the growing desperation. Palestinians said most were shot by Israeli troops.

The Israeli military, which was overseeing the private aid deliveries, on Friday said its troops did not fire at Palestinians around an aid convoy but at "suspects" nearby who they deemed a threat.

Israel's military launched an air and ground campaign in Gaza after Hamas's attacks on Israel on 7 October, in which about 1,200 people were killed and 253 others were taken hostage.

More than 30,800 people have been killed in Gaza since then, the territory's Hamas-run health ministry says.

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