Gaza aid ship prepares to leave Cyprus as humanitarian concerns grow

Three Palestinian children died of dehydration and malnutrition at the northern Al Shifa hospital overnight

A ship laden with humanitarian aid intended for Gaza is preparing to leave Cyprus, amid acute international concern as conditions in the territory continue to deteriorate.

A US charity said it was loading aid on to a boat in Cyprus, which will be the first shipment to Gaza along a maritime corridor the European Commission hopes will open by Sunday.

An Israeli strike damaged one of the largest residential towers in Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza on Saturday, residents said, stepping up pressure on the last area of the enclave which has not yet seen fighting on the ground and where over a million displaced Palestinians are sheltering.

Dozens of families were made homeless though no casualties were reported by the strike on the 12-floor building, located 500 metres from the border with Egypt, according to residents. The Israeli military did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the incident.


One of the tower’s 300 residents told reporters that Israel gave them a 30-minute warning to flee the building at night.

“People were startled, running down the stairs, some fell, it was chaos. People left their belongings and money,” said Mohammad Al-Nabrees, adding that among those who tripped down the stairs during the panicked evacuation was a friend’s pregnant wife.

A Rafah-based official with the Fatah party, which dominates the Palestinian Authority that has limited self-rule in the occupied West Bank, another Palestinian territory, said he feared that hitting the Rafah tower was a sign of an imminent Israeli invasion.

Five months into Israel’s unrelenting air and ground assault on Gaza, health authorities said nearly 31,000 Palestinians had been killed, more than 72,500 were wounded and thousands were trapped under rubble.

The offensive has plunged the Palestinian territory, already reeling from a 17-year Israel-led blockade, into a humanitarian catastrophe. Much of it has been reduced to rubble and most of the 2.3 million population have been displaced, with the UN warning of disease and starvation.

Three Palestinian children died of dehydration and malnutrition at the northern Al Shifa hospital overnight, said Gaza health ministry spokesperson Ashraf Al-Qidra. Qidra said this raised to 23 the number of Palestinians who had died of similar causes in nearly 10 days.

Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said last week that an attack on Rafah would go ahead despite widespread international calls for a ceasefire, and qualified opposition even from the US, Israel’s staunchest ally.

Rafah is a key logistics hub for aid deliveries and any fighting there would cut off even the meagre aid supplies currently reaching Gaza, as well as risking massive civilian casualties.

It is unclear how much the planned sea corridor would relieve the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The Spanish-flagged vessel, Open Arms, docked three weeks ago in the port of Larnaca in Cyprus, the closest European Union country.

“World Central Kitchen teams are in Cyprus loading pallets of humanitarian aid on to a boat headed to northern Gaza,” the charity said.

“We have been preparing for weeks alongside our trusted NGO partner Open Arms for the opening of a maritime aid corridor that would allow us to scale our efforts in the region,” it added.

The charity said it plans to tow a barge loaded with provisions for the people of Gaza, where dire humanitarian conditions more than five months into the Israel-Hamas war have led some countries to airdrop food and other assistance.

“The endeavour to establish a humanitarian maritime corridor in Gaza is making progress, and our tugboat stands prepared to embark at a moment’s notice, laden with tons of food, water and vital supplies for Palestinian civilians,” Open Arms said on social media platform X.

In Larnaca, Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission chief, had earlier expressed hope that a maritime corridor could open this Sunday, although details remained unclear.

She said a “pilot operation” would be launched on Friday, aided by the United Arab Emirates, which secured “the first of many shipments of goods to the people of Gaza”.

There are no functioning ports in Gaza and officials did not say where the initial shipments would go, whether they would be subject to inspection by Israel or who would distribute the aid.

The Pentagon said on Friday that a US plan to establish a “temporary offshore maritime pier” in Gaza would take up to 60 days and would probably involve more than 1,000 US personnel.

Israel, which withdrew from Gaza in 2005 but has maintained control over its airspace and territorial waters, said it “welcomes” the planned maritime corridor.