Aid Ship Sets Sail to Gaza, Where Hundreds of Thousands Face Starvation

The vessel is loaded with roughly 200 tons of food.

A ship belonging to the Open Arms aid group prepares to ferry some 200 tonnes of rice and flour to Gaza, Larnaca, Cyprus, March 11, 2024.
A ship belonging to the Open Arms aid group prepares to ferry some 200 tonnes of rice and flour to Gaza, Larnaca, Cyprus, March 11, 2024.
AP Photo/Petros Karadjias

RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — An aid ship loaded with some 200 tons of food set sail for Gaza on Tuesday in a pilot program for the opening of a sea corridor to the territory, where the five-month-old Israel-Hamas war has driven hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to the brink of starvation.

The push to get food in by sea — along with a recent campaign to air drop aid into isolated north Gaza — highlighted the international frustration with the growing humanitarian crisis and their inability to get aid in by road.

The food on the aid ship was gathered by World Central Kitchen, the charity founded by celebrity chef José Andrés, and is being transported by the Spanish aid group Open Arms. The ship departed from the eastern Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus and is expected to arrive in Gaza in two to three days.

The United States has separately announced plans to construct a sea bridge near Gaza in order to deliver aid, but it will likely be several weeks before it is operational. President Joe Biden's administration has provided crucial military aid for Israel while urging it to facilitate more humanitarian access.


The war, triggered by Hamas' Oct. 7 attack on Israel, has killed over 30,000 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, because they cannot find enough food or afford it at vastly inflated prices.

The United States, Qatar and Egypt had tried to broker a cease-fire and hostage release ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began Sunday. But the talks stalled as Hamas demanded any temporary pause in the fighting come with guarantees for ending the war.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to expand the offensive into the southern city of Rafah, where half of Gaza's population has sought refuge, and to keep fighting until Hamas has been dismantled and all the captives it is holding have been returned.

The war threatens to spill across the Middle East as Iran-backed groups allied with Hamas trade fire with U.S. and Israeli forces. The Israeli military said around 100 projectiles were launched into Israel from Lebanon on Monday, one of the biggest barrages since the war began.

There were no reports of injuries or damage from the attack, which appeared to be in response to Israeli airstrikes deep inside Lebanon the day before. Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah militant group have traded fire nearly every day since the war began.


Aid groups say it is nearly impossible to deliver aid in much of Gaza because of Israeli restrictions, ongoing hostilities and the breakdown of order after the Hamas-run police force largely vanished from the streets.

Conditions are especially dire in northern Gaza, which has suffered widespread devastation and been largely 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.

On Monday, the first day of the normally festive month of Ramadan, children with pots lined up at a charity kitchen in the urban Jabaliya refugee camp. Each was given a small portion of cooked carrots and sweet potatoes to break the dawn-to-dusk fast.

"Our children can't find anything to eat," said Bassam al-Haw, a volunteer. "No food, no water, no flour."


The planned sea route has the support of the European Union, the United States, the United Arab Emirates and others. The U.S. and other countries have also launched airdrops, but such efforts are costly and unlikely to meet the mounting needs.

The Open Arms ship is towing a barge loaded with food. Once it nears Gaza, two smaller vessels will tow the barge to a jetty being built by World Central Kitchen, which operates 65 kitchens across the territory, the group said. It plans to distribute the food in the north.

"The best security is to have enough food in Gaza," Andres said. "We want to make sure nothing happens to anybody."

Scores of Palestinians were killed last month during a chaotic aid delivery in the north organized by Israeli troops, who fired on the crowd. Israel said most of those killed were trampled to death, while Palestinian officials said most had been shot.

Israel, which controls Gaza's coastline and all but one of its land crossings, says it supports efforts to deliver aid by sea and will inspect all cargo before it sets sail.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said it was the first time a ship had been authorized to deliver aid directly to Gaza since 2005 and that the European Union would work with "smaller ships" until the U.S. completes work on its floating port.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos said during a visit to Beirut that there is a "mechanism" in place for larger shipments, with the goal of "a more systematic exercise with increased volumes."

The war began when Hamas-led militants stormed into Israel in a surprise attack on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 hostage.

Gaza's Health Ministry says the Israeli offensive launched in response has killed at least 31,185 Palestinians. The ministry doesn't differentiate between civilians and combatants in its count, but it has said women and children make up around two-thirds of the dead.

Israel blames the civilian death toll on Hamas because the militants fight in dense, residential areas. The military has said it has killed 13,000 Hamas fighters, without providing evidence.

A strike on a home in the central city of Deir al-Balah early Tuesday killed 11 people from the same family, including four women and five children, according to hospital records and an Associated Press reporter who saw the bodies arrive.

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