The first ship to use a new sea route approaches Gaza with 200 tons of aid

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WADI GAZA, Gaza Strip (AP) — A ship carrying 200 tons of aid approached the coast of Gaza on Friday in a mission to inaugurate a sea route from Cyprus that was intended to bring more assistance to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in the enclave five months into the war between Israel and Hamas.

The ship, manned by the Spanish aid group Open Arms, left Cyprus on Tuesday towing a barge laden with food sent by World Central Kitchen, the charity founded by celebrity chef José Andrés. It could be seen off Gaza’s coast Friday morning.

Israel has been under increasing pressure to allow more aid into Gaza after five months of war between Israel and Hamas. The United States has joined other countries in airdropping supplies to the isolated region of northern Gaza and has announced separate plans to construct a pier to get aid in.

Aid groups said the airdrops and sea shipments are far less efficient ways of delivering the massive amounts of aid needed in Gaza. Instead, the groups have called on Israel to guarantee safe corridors for truck convoys after land deliveries became nearly impossible because of military restrictions, ongoing hostilities and the breakdown of order after the Hamas-run police force largely vanished from the streets.

Earlier this week, Israel allowed six aid trucks to enter directly into the north, a step aid groups have long called for.

World Central Kitchen operates 65 kitchens across Gaza from where it has served 32 million meals since the war started, the group said. The aid includes rice, flour, lentils, beans, tuna and canned meat, according to World Central Kitchen spokesperson Linda Roth.

It plans to distribute the food in the north, the largely devastated target of Israel’s initial offensive in Gaza, which has been mostly cut off by Israeli forces since October. Up to 300,000 Palestinians are believed to have remained there despite Israeli evacuation orders, with many reduced to eating animal feed in recent weeks.

A second vessel being loaded with even more aid will head to Gaza once the aid on the first ship is offloaded and distributed, Cyprus’ Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos said. He declined to specify when the second vessel would leave, saying it depends in part on whether the Open Arms delivery goes smoothly.

The Israel-Hamas war was triggered by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people and left another 250 taken into Gaza as hostages. Israel’s offensive in Gaza has killed over 31,000 Palestinians and driven most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people from their homes. A quarter of Gaza’s population is starving, according to the United Nations.