How would a sea corridor bringing aid to Gaza work?

The five stage plan was proposed by Cyprus in November and endorsed by the EU this week, and could see aid arrive to Gaza on daily shipments.

As Israel ignores calls for unimpeded aid access amid a looming famine in the war-ravaged Gaza Strip, alternative routes into the territory are urgently being explored by humanitarian agencies and international players.

One option that has been floated by the US and European Union this week is the establishment of a sea channel to deliver supplies directly into the enclave, although aid agencies have repeatedly stressed that a cessation of fighting is the only way to fully alleviate the suffering for the 2.3 million people of Gaza.

Despite the overwhelming needs, in recent weeks delivery and distribution through the two land border crossings have been severely hampered. Aid convoys have come under fire and civil unrest has broken out amid a collapse in law and order following five months of war.

Over the past week the US, France, and Jordan took a new approach by dropping food parcels by air into north Gaza — a move which hints at a growing rift between Israel and some of its allies. Some have pointed out that it suggests that Tel Aviv cannot be persuaded by even its closest allies to open more crossing points.

The northern areas have been cut off from aid for weeks, with hospitals struggling to treat the thousands of wounded and children in care dying from malnutrition and dehydration.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said on Monday that the US was exploring the sea route option, while European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will travel to Nicosia later this week to discuss the plan with the president of Cyprus.

This week, Israeli media reported that UAE aid would be shipped to Gaza after transiting and being checked by the Israeli military in Cyprus.

What would a Gaza maritime aid corridor look like?

The idea of creating a sea corridor to bring aid to Gaza was first presented by Cyprus – the closest European Union (EU) member to the conflict zone – at the International Aid Conference in Paris in November.

The plan, called the Amalthea Initiative and detailed in a 25-page long report, has been in the works for months and has involved various countries including Jordan, Israel, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates.

There are five stages to the plan which could see food, medical, and shelter supplies land on Gaza’s beaches to support the more than two million who have been displaced during the war.

Aid would be collected in an operations base in Larnaca in southern Cyprus, which is 210 nautical miles away from Gaza and has an airport and seaport. The goods would be subjected to checks by Israeli authorities and then loaded onto ships which would leave daily to Gaza and accompanied by warships for protection.

US publication Politico reported this week that one option being floating is to use US Navy warships to carry cargo directly to Gaza’s shore. It would not be atypical of the White House to deploy military ships for overseas support, as it has done in response to humanitarian disasters in the past.

La solidarité à l’œuvre. — Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) March 5, 2024

Plus, the Pentagon moved its battleships in the Mediterranean Sea to be closer to Tel Aviv early in the war.
What has been the response to the plan?

Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides has said he is proud to support the Palestinian people at this time of need and is happy for his country to utilise its geographical position.

Following the November aid conference, Christodoulides said he was encouraged that “the Cyprus Maritime Corridor Initiative has been gaining traction and political endorsement as a sustained, reliable, secure and viable route for humanitarian aid to Gaza”.

Several EU countries have thrown weight behind the plan. The Greek prime minister commended it but cautioned that identifying a “suitable landing zone in southern Gaza…will require the cooperation of all parties involved”.

Excellent call with @Christodulides

We discussed the humanitarian situation in Gaza. Swift action is needed.@EU_Commission will support the implementation of Cyprus' maritime corridor initiative

We applaud your leadership

Also discussed efforts to tackle migration challenges — Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) March 4, 2024

France has said it could create ‘floating hospital ships’ to address the collapse of Gaza’s health system following months of Israeli assaults on medical facilities. France currently has a vessel docked at the Egyptian port Al-Arish which is treating injured evacuees.

But aid experts have also raised flags over some remaining key logistical challenges, including the fact that Gaza does not have a functioning port.

The fishing port near Gaza City has suffered major damage from Israeli forces while its navy ships are occupying the waters.

The European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic previously asserted that while a maritime corridor is something the EU would support, there remain difficulties in executing the plan.

It would not be the first time Cyprus has been involved in humanitarian intervention to assist those impacted by conflict in the Middle East.

Its strategic eastern Mediterranean position and longstanding relations with the region has seen it play a supporting role in the past, as well as offer military bases to the UK and US.

During Lebanon’s 15-year civil war, thousands of displaced Lebanese fled by sea to Cyprus and sought refuge there.

More recently, many Israelis sought refuge there following the 7 October Hamas attack and Israel’s renewed assault on Gaza.

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