Gaza sea corridor aid returns to Cyprus after Israel kills NGO workers

Monday's attack was a serious setback in attempts to expedite aid into Gaza, where international agencies say many are on the verge of famine as a result of the Israeli assault

Reuters
Published : 2 April 2024, 07:21 PM
Updated : 2 April 2024, 07:21 PM

Seaborne aid for Gaza is returning to Cyprus after Israel killed seven aid workers of World Central Kitchen, Cypriot officials said on Tuesday, as the US-based charity said it would pause work in the occupied Palestinian territory.

World Central Kitchen (WCK) staff had just offloaded 100 tonnes of food aid from a barge which sailed from Cyprus when Israel attacked their vehicle convoy overnight on Monday in an airstrike.

The barge was part of a four-vessel flotilla which set sail from Larnaca, Cyprus, on March 30. Another vessel still loaded with 240 tonnes of food, the Jennifer, was heading back to Cyprus on Tuesday with the empty barge, a salvage boat and a tugboat after WCK suspended operations.

"They only managed to offload the barge," a Cypriot official told Reuters. "One third (of the aid cargo) was delivered, and two thirds is coming back."

Monday's attack was a serious setback in attempts to expedite aid into Gaza, where international agencies say many are on the verge of famine as a result of the Israeli assault, which has killed more than 32,000 people.

Israel has said the attack was "tragic" and unintended, though WCK said it had coordinated movements with the Israeli military and two armoured cars were emblazoned with the charity's logo.

The United Arab Emirates, which had been the main financier for WCK's aid efforts through the maritime corridor, said it was pausing humanitarian aid efforts though that channel pending further safety guarantees and a full investigation, a UAE official said.

"The tragic events must not discourage us. We need to double down on efforts to get aid to Gaza," Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides said after a meeting with European Parliament President Roberta Metsola.

WCK has been active in Gaza since October, bringing food by land routes and also participating in air drops.

In March it launched an inaugural sea corridor transporting aid to the enclave from Cyprus.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos, who said Cypriot authorities had been in touch with WCK, said the strike occurred 12 km (7 miles) from the landing area for aid - a makeshift jetty created by the charity.

The aid workers had just ended a shift halfway through the offloading process, which was supposed to resume early on Tuesday, the Cypriot minister said.

"This is something that has now been frozen and since WCK has made the announcement - they will be leaving the area in order to come back, regroup and see and assess what the next steps are," Kombos said.

Cyprus had played a pivotal role in establishing a maritime route to Gaza by offering a fast-track on-island security screening process overseen by Israel.

In a joint statement on Tuesday, the UAE and Cyprus expressed "profound condemnation" over Israel's strike.