Middle East crisis live: UK to work with US on Gaza maritime aid corridor after Biden unveils plan for aid pier | Israel-Gaza war

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The UK to work with the US on Gaza maritime aid corridor, says foreign secretary

The UK said it would work alongside the US to open a maritime corridor to deliver aid directly to Gaza, the UK’s foreign secretary David Cameron said on Friday.

“Alongside the US, the UK and partners have announced we will open a maritime corridor to deliver aid directly to Gaza,” Cameron said on social media.

“We continue to urge Israel to allow more trucks into Gaza as the fastest way to get aid to those who need it,” he added.

People in Gaza are in desperate humanitarian need.

Alongside the US, the UK and partners have announced we will open a maritime corridor to deliver aid directly to Gaza.

We continue to urge Israel to allow more trucks into Gaza as the fastest way to get aid to those who need…

— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) March 8, 2024

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Israeli army says its troops fired at Palestinians who ‘posed threat’ near aid convoy

Israel’s army said on Friday its initial probe into an incident that the Palestinian health authorities said left more than 100 Palestinians dead as crowds rushed an aid convoy, found troops “fired precisely” at approaching suspects, reports Agence France-Presse (AFP).

World leaders had called for an investigation into the incident on 29 February when the health ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip said Israeli forces opened fire on people scrambling for food from a truck convoy. The Israeli military said at the time that a “stampede” occurred when thousands of people surrounded the convoy.

Releasing its initial findings on Friday, the military said in a statement that the “command review” found that “troops did not fire at the humanitarian convoy”. It added, however, that they “did fire at a number of suspects who approached the nearby forces and posed a threat to them”.

The health ministry in Gaza, in an updated toll issued on Friday, said 120 people were killed in the 29 February incident and at least 750 others were injured. It has previously alleged they were shot by Israeli forces.

Witnesses said thousands of people had rushed towards aid trucks in Gaza City early that morning, and that soldiers “fired at the crowd as people came too close to the tanks.”

A UN team that visited Gaza City’s al-Shifa hospital the day after the incident reported seeing “a large number of gunshot wounds” among dozens of Palestinian patients.

In its statement on Friday, the military said about 12,000 Palestinians had gathered around the aid trucks and began taking the supplies, reports AFP.

“During the course of the looting, incidents of significant harm to civilians occurred from the stampede and people being run over by the trucks,” the army said.

At that time, “dozens of Gazans advanced towards nearby IDF troops, up to several metres from them, and thereby posed a real threat to the forces at that point,” it said.

The military said troops “fired cautionary fire in order to distance the suspects,” and after they continued to advance, “the troops fired precisely toward a number of suspects to remove the threat.”

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A Hamas official told AFP that ceasefire negotiations were not over, on Friday.

“The mediators informed Hamas that efforts will continue to reach an agreement,” the official told AFP, requesting not to be named as he was not authorised to speak on the matter.

Israeli war cabinet member Gadi Eisenkot said Hamas was under “very serious pressure” from mediators to make a “counter-offer”. “Then it will be possible to advance it and take a position,” he said.

US president Joe Biden had urged Hamas to accept a ceasefire plan with Israel before Ramadan, but Hamas negotiators left talks with mediators in Egypt to consult with the movement’s leadership in Qatar.

According to AFP, Hamas’s delegation voiced dissatisfaction with Israeli responses so far before leaving Cairo, although US ambassador to Israel Jack Lew denied the talks had “broken down”.

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Helena Smith

Helena Smith

We are hearing that the maiden aid voyage will be made by Spain’s Open Arms in what will be a test voyage of the sea corridor.

The vessel had been waiting at Cyprus’s port of Larnaca for permission to deliver food aid from World Central Kitchen, a US charity founded by celebrity chef José André.

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Helena Smith

Helena Smith

The Guardian has learned that a joint statement by the EU, US, UK, Cyprus and the United Arab Emirates will detail how the aid operation will work.

Earlier this week a source familiar with the matter divulged that aid was being coordinated with the UAE.

Speaking from Nicosia, one western diplomat told us: “The facilities at the port are ready and the aim is to get the first shipment out before Sunday.”

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Helena Smith

Helena Smith

Aid groups have welcomed US president Joe Biden’s announcement of relief finally reaching the war-ravaged coastal strip. But there are also fears that with needs now so desperate any shipment will be “a drop in the bucket.” Reacting to the news Mercy Corps’ vice-president of global policy and advocacy, Kate Phillips-Barrasso said this morning:

Any effort to get more aid into Gaza is needed and welcome as the entire population faces crisis levels of hunger and the abyss of famine. However, any ‘sea aid’ will be a drop in the bucket in terms of the volume and range of relief Palestinians need right now.

While inspection and logistics details are still unclear, any aid moving through this route would still be subject to many, if not all, the same impediments, delays, and bureaucratic obstacles we’re facing getting aid in through land crossings. And even if a seaport enables more aid into Gaza, once it arrives there is still no way to effectively distribute at the scale needed or to the people who are most urgently facing starvation absent a ceasefire.

The Biden administration is rightly focused on getting more lifesaving assistance to Palestinians trapped in Gaza – but ad hoc, time-consuming, and unsustainable workarounds like airdrops and offshore deliveries further underscore that the US is not adequately using its leverage with Israel to end the siege that is driving humanitarian needs or to enable increased, safe, and sustainable access for aid and aid workers in a meaningful way.”

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Air and sea deliveries cannot make up for shortage of supply routes on land, says UN aid coordinator for Gaza

Sigrid Kaag, the UN senior humanitarian and reconstruction coordinator for Gaza, told reporters late on Thursday that air and sea deliveries cannot make up for a shortage of supply routes on land.

Speaking on the diversification of aid supply routes, after addressing the UN security council, Kaag told reporters that land remained the “optimal solution”. “It’s easier, it’s faster, it’s cheaper – particularly if we know we need to sustain humanitarian assistance to Gazans for a long period of time – and, of course, I’ve spoken to the importance of opening additional crossings,” she said.

Sigrid Kaag, the UN senior humanitarian and reconstruction coordinator for Gaza, said that while airdrops represented a ‘symbol of support’, the humanitarian assistance they provided was ‘far from enough’. Photograph: Anadolu/Getty Images

Kaag said that while airdrops represented a “symbol of support for civilians in Gaza” and were “a testament to our shared humanity”, they were “a drop in the ocean”. “It’s far from enough,” she added.

Kaag commended the government of Cyprus for, what she called “their foresight and inclusive planning” on a maritime corridor to Gaza. She said:

In recent days you will have heard, and will hear more today or tomorrow, on a number of big countries joining and accelerating – or almost, I’d say, fast forwarding the establishment of a maritime corridor with a focus on humanitarian goods – and I think this is really important.”

However, she pointed out that delivering aid by air and sea could not to make up for a shortage of aid supply routes on land:

“Air or sea is not a substitute for what we need to see arrive at land.”

Kaag also spoke about other considerations regarding aid for Gaza: “Humanitarian assistance, and I’ve mentioned this before, is not an exercise in counting trucks. We need to know quality, relevance, it meets the needs, and as I said, volume.”

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Maritime corridor to Gaza from Cyprus could start this weekend, says von der Leyen

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said she expected a maritime aid corridor to start operating between Cyprus and Gaza over this weekend, taking desperately needed aid to besieged Palestinians.

According to Reuters, von der Leyen said a pilot test run of food aid collected by a charity group and supported by the United Arab Emirates could be leaving Cyprus as early as Friday from the port of Larnaca in Cyprus.

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The UK to work with the US on Gaza maritime aid corridor, says foreign secretary

The UK said it would work alongside the US to open a maritime corridor to deliver aid directly to Gaza, the UK’s foreign secretary David Cameron said on Friday.

“Alongside the US, the UK and partners have announced we will open a maritime corridor to deliver aid directly to Gaza,” Cameron said on social media.

“We continue to urge Israel to allow more trucks into Gaza as the fastest way to get aid to those who need it,” he added.

People in Gaza are in desperate humanitarian need.

Alongside the US, the UK and partners have announced we will open a maritime corridor to deliver aid directly to Gaza.

We continue to urge Israel to allow more trucks into Gaza as the fastest way to get aid to those who need…

— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) March 8, 2024

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Israeli offensive in Gaza’s Rafah ‘cannot be allowed to happen’, says UN human rights office

The UN’s human rights office said on Friday that an Israeli offensive in Gaza’s border town of Rafah could not be allowed to happen because it would cause massive loss of life, reports Reuters.

“Should Israel launch its threatened military offensive into Rafah, where 1.5 million people have been displaced in deplorable, subhuman conditions, any ground assault on Rafah would incur massive loss of life and would heighten the risk of further atrocity crimes,” said Jeremy Laurence, spokesperson for the UN human rights office spokesperson.

“This must not be allowed to happen,” he said.

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Here are some of the latest images on the newswires:

Protesters in Tel Aviv on Friday form a human chain to mark International Women’s Day and call for the immediate release of the Israeli women still held captive by Hamas in Gaza. Photograph: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images
A view of a demolished building after Israeli attacks in Rafah, Gaza on Friday. It was reported that the Israeli army attacked the building belonging to the Abu Saleme family in the Azba area, killing and injuring people. Photograph: Anadolu/Getty Images
Activists participate in a rally to celebrate International Women’s Day on Friday in Seoul, South Korea. Photograph: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
People participate in the 13th annual International Jerusalem Marathon on Friday. Many participants this year wore shirts and ran with signs raising awareness for the hostages kidnapped by Hamas and still being held in Gaza. Photograph: Alexi J Rosenfeld/Getty Images
Palestinian Nisrine al-Najar receives treatment on Thursday at a clinic set up by Doctors Without Border (MSF) inside the Rafah Indonesian Field hospital in the southern Gaza Strip, for severe injuries and burns sustained during Israeli bombardment. Photograph: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images
Mohammed Ammar, who lives in Rafah city in the southern Gaza Strip, produces Ramadan lanterns and ornaments made of wood in different sizes in his workplace. Photograph: Anadolu/Getty Images
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Helena Smith

Helena Smith

Over in Cyprus, EU Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen is holding talks with local leader Nikos Christodoulides in the latest fine-tuning of plans to create a maritime corridor from the east Mediterranean island to Gaza.

The EU chief, who arrived in the country last night, will travel from Nicosia, its capital, to Larnaca to inspect the command centre and port facilities that will be used to ship desperately needed aid to the besieged coastal strip a mere 210 nautical miles away.

Speaking to the state-run CyBC radio this morning the government spokesperson, Konstantinos Letymbiotis said an announcement on how the operation would work would be issued later today. “The presence of von der Leyen alone in Cyprus sends messages as to the progress of the Cypriot initiative,” he said.

Nicosia first proposed establishing an humanitarian maritime corridor to Gaza in October but the scheme is believed to have come up against the opposition of Israel which has repeatedly expressed concerns over the potential of Hamas to hide weapons among the aid shipments. Israeli agents would inspect supplies, expected to include food and medicines, both at the Cypriot port and once they were transferred on to ships.

The EU’s most easterly member state, Cyprus has good relations with Israel and the Arab world. Christodoulides has said the initiative highlights the strategic island’s ability to be “a bridge to the region.”

Officials have hinted that the first shipment could happen as early as Sunday, the expected start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

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