NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — A shipment of humanitarian aid left a port in Cyprus on Thursday morning and was on its way to the U.S-built pier in Gaza, the first delivery to the newly built ramp, Cyprus’ foreign minister said.

The relief is desperately needed, with the United Nations saying people in Gaza are on the brink of famine and as Israeli troops have ordered the evacuation of 100,000 Palestinians from Gaza’s southern city of Rafah. Earlier this week, Israel sent tanks to seize Gaza’s nearby Rafah crossing with Egypt, shutting down a vital border entry point needed to get assistance into the battered enclave.

It remains uncertain whether Israel will launch an all-out invasion of Rafah as international efforts for a cease-fire continue. Israel has said that an assault on Rafah is crucial to its goal of destroying Hamas after the militant group’s Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel that left 1,200 dead and 250 seized as hostages and abducted to Gaza.

The United States, which opposes a Rafah invasion, has said Israel has not provided a credible plan for evacuating and protecting civilians now crammed in Rafah. The war has killed over 34,800 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials, and has driven some 80% of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million Palestinians from their homes.

President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that he would not supply offensive weapons that Israel could use to launch an all-out assault on Rafah, over concern for the well-being of the more than 1 million civilians sheltering there.

Biden, in an interview with CNN, said the U.S. was still committed to Israel’s defense and would supply Iron Dome rocket interceptors and other defensive arms, but that if Israel goes into Rafah, “we’re not going to supply the weapons and artillery shells used.”

In response, far-right Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir implied in a post on the social platform X that Hamas loves Biden, using a heart emoji in the tweet. Ben Gvir has pushed for a punishing military response and has threatened to leave the government if Israel does not carry out a wide-ranging military operation in Rafah.

The U.S. vessel Sagamore, loaded with much needed humanitarian assistance, departed from the port of Larnaca early on Thursday with the aim of transferring as much aid to Gaza as possible through the maritime corridor, said Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos.

The vessel’s voyage comes about two months after Biden gave the order for the building of the large floating platform several miles off the Gaza coast to be a launching pad for deliveries since not enough aid was getting in through land crossings, which require stringent checks by Israel, and by air drops.

The U.S. military finished the construction of the temporary pier and causeway, Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh said Tuesday, but plans to move it into place on the shore were on hold due to weather and other logistics.

Singh told reporters that U.S. military ships and the assembled pier were at the Ashdod port and that high winds and sea swells made it too dangerous to install the pier at the Gaza beach.

An official from Cyprus told The Associated Press that if conditions didn’t allow for the vessel to offload directly onto the pier, it would load smaller vessels, which would transport the aid directly to Gaza. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the details of the operation.

Still, humanitarian workers say aid coming by sea won’t be enough to alleviate the dire humanitarian suffering in Gaza and that the most effective way to get assistance in is by land.

But the closure of the Rafah crossing and the nearby Kerem Shalom crossing this week cut off the entry of food, supplies and fuel for aid trucks and generators.

Israeli tanks are seen near the Shalom Kerem crossing in southern Israel bordering the Gaza Strip, on May 6, 2024.
Israeli tanks are seen near the Shalom Kerem crossing in southern Israel bordering the Gaza Strip, on May 6, 2024.

Jamal Awad/Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images

International aid groups warned Wednesday that a distribution network is at risk of collapse across the territory because fuel shipments into Gaza were cut off. Israel’s threat of invasion of Rafah itself, where many of the aid groups have based their warehouses and staff, is also further disrupting distribution, the groups said.

Israel said it reopened on Wednesday the Kerem Shalom crossing, shut after Hamas mortars killed four Israeli soldiers nearby in an attack on Sunday, but aid groups said no trucks were entering the Gaza side.

Trucks let through from Israel must be unloaded and the cargo reloaded onto trucks in Gaza, but no workers in Gaza can get to the facility to do so because it is too dangerous, the U.N. says.

Meanwhile, attacks continued across Gaza with Israeli airstrike on a residential building killing eight people, including four children, late Wednesday, according to hospital records. The strike hit a residential building in the area of Tel al-Sultan in western Rafah.

Mednick reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writer Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington contributed to this report.


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