Europe and U.S. Plan to Supply Gaza by Sea, but Aid Groups Say It’s Not Enough

Europe and U.S. Plan to Supply Gaza by Sea, but Aid Groups Say It’s Not Enough

A day after President Biden announced plans for maritime aid delivery to the Gaza Strip, European leaders said Friday they would deliver aid by ship as early as the weekend. But aid groups and Gaza officials criticized shipments by air or sea as too cumbersome, urging that vastly more food and medicine be supplied by trucks.

The complications of delivering aid to the hungry residents of Gaza were underlined on Friday when the authorities in Gaza said at least five Palestinians were killed and several others were wounded after they were struck by packages of humanitarian aid that were dropped from an aircraft.

The United Nations has warned that five months of war and an Israeli blockade have left hundreds of thousands of Gazans on the brink of starvation, prompting a variety of proposals to speed the delivery of food and other vital needs. Israel insists on inspecting all supplies going into Gaza, and aid trucks have been allowed in through just two border crossings — one from Egypt and one from Israel — in southern Gaza.

President Biden on Thursday night outlined a U.S. military plan to build a floating pier on Gaza’s Mediterranean coast to supply food, water, medicine and other necessities to civilians, saying the operation would “enable a massive increase” in the assistance entering the territory.

But U.S. officials said the project would take at least 30 to 60 days to complete, raising questions about how famine in Gaza will be staved off in the critical days ahead.

The aid group Doctors Without Borders said in a statement Friday that the U.S. maritime plans were a “glaring distraction” and that the delivery of aid was not a logistical problem but a “political” one.

“The food, water, and medical supplies so desperately needed by people in Gaza are sitting just across the border,” the group said in a statement. “Israel needs to facilitate rather than block the flow of supplies.”

Britain, the European Union and the United Arab Emirates said Friday they would join the U.S. maritime effort, but added in a joint statement that aid must be delivered “through all possible routes.”

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, the E.U. executive body, said that the first ship carrying aid could depart the E.U. nation of Cyprus for Gaza soon, with more to follow on Sunday.

It was not immediately clear where the vessels would unload their cargo or how it would be distributed amid Israeli bombardment and attacks on aid trucks by hungry Palestinians. Gaza does not have a functioning port, and its coastal waters are too shallow for most vessels.

At a news conference in Cyprus, Ms. von der Leyen offered few details. Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Friday that it supported a maritime corridor as long as goods are checked “in accordance with Israeli standards” before leaving Cyprus.

Speaking with reporters on Friday, David Cameron, foreign secretary of Britain, said it was “crucial” that Israel fully open the port of Ashdod, north of Gaza, to receive maritime shipments of aid.

“That’s a working port — it can take aid now,” he said. “That would increase the amount of aid and can then be driven into Gaza.”

Mr. Cameron said around 120 trucks carrying aid have crossed into Israel each day recently, but that the enclave needed more than four times as many aid trucks.

Israeli officials have not said whether they will open more land routes into Gaza.

Shortages of food and other supplies have been especially acute in northern Gaza, and humanitarian groups have called on Israel to reopen a major border crossing there. The few attempts to drive supply convoys from the south to the north have had limited success, with aid groups reporting that in some cases they were turned back by gunfire or their trucks were swarmed and picked clean by desperate people before they could reach their destinations.

Plans for the sea route began taking shape months ago. In November, President Nikos Christodoulides of Cyprus announced an initiative to collect shipments in his country, inspect them at the port of Larnaca and send them through a secure sea corridor to Gaza, about 240 miles away.

If initial shipments this weekend are successful, more deliveries will follow, said Konstantinos Letymbiotis, a spokesman for the Cypriot government. He said it would take about 15 hours to make the journey, although he declined to say where the shipment would be delivered in Gaza, citing security concerns.

The aid will be distributed in part by the renowned Spanish chef José Andrés, the founder of the World Central Kitchen, which has served more than 32 million meals in Gaza.

Mr. Andrés posted images to social media on Friday showing pallets being loaded onto a vessel stamped with the names of his group and Open Arms, a Spanish aid group. He said that the plans for the shipment were “in the final stages,” and that it would “land in the beaches of Gaza with 200 pallets.”

Aid delivery efforts have been complicated by the chaos and desperation created by the war. Last week a convoy of aid with an Israeli military escort ended in catastrophe when dozens of Palestinians were killed as they massed around the aid trucks. The Israeli military released a statement summarizing the results of an initial internal review on Friday saying that Israeli soldiers “fired precisely” at Gazans who approached them during a chaotic scene near the convoy.

The account differed sharply from those of witnesses and Palestinian officials, who described extensive shooting after thousands of desperate Gazans approached the aid delivery.

The Israeli military said that its review found that the soldiers had fired in an attempt to keep “suspects” at a distance.

“As they continued to approach, the troops fired to remove the threat,” it said in the statement.

The release of the report came as authorities in Gaza gave details of what they said was another aid delivery calamity, the deaths of Palestinians killed by a Friday airdrop. The media office for the territory’s Hamas-run government said in a statement that aid packages fell “on the heads” of some people “as a result of landing incorrectly.”

The report could not be immediately verified by independent sources.

A video, circulating on social media and purporting to depict the incident, shows a plane releasing parachutes carrying aid packages over northern Gaza. In the clip, whose date and location were verified by The New York Times, it appears that one parachute failed to open, while multiple packages that were not attached to parachutes plummeted to the ground. In the clip, filmed near Al-Shati Camp, people can be seen running in different directions.

Jamie McGoldrick, a senior U.N. relief official, said the incident was further evidence that Israel must open more overland crossings to aid.

“Let the stuff just flow, it’s a very simple solution,” he said in an interview. “You don’t have to have airdrops like the one which killed five people this morning in the north.”

It remained unclear which country had dropped the aid packages, but a U.S. military spokesman said it was not the United States. Airdrops have been carried out by the United States, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and France in recent weeks.

“Press reports that U.S. airdrops resulted in civilian casualties on the ground are false, as we’ve confirmed that all of our aid bundles landed safely,” said Maj. Gen. Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman.

Saleh Eid, a 60-year-old translator, said in a telephone interview on Friday that he had previously seen packages airdropped in north Gaza fall “very fast” when their parachutes failed to open, creating a risk to people’s lives.

Mr. Eid, who lives in Jabaliya, just north of Gaza City, said that many of these packages had fallen into the sea. Others have dropped into open areas near the border with Israel, and people have risked being shot by Israeli forces to retrieve them, he said.

Mr. Eid said that much of the airdropped food ends up being sold on the black market instead of being distributed to the most hungry.

On Sunday, he said, he bought at a market three bags of food that had been airdropped by the United States. He gave the food to his wife, who is nursing their 2-week-old baby, in the hope that she could eat well enough to produce milk.

Each of the bags, he said, cost him 30 shekels, or about $8, and contained a small meal and some biscuits, jam, peanut butter, a bar of chocolate, a juice box, instant coffee and gum.

Victoria Kim and Christina Morales contributed reporting.

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