By John Irish
PARIS (Reuters) – The president of Cyprus outlined a proposal on Thursday to open a maritime corridor to help deliver more aid to Gaza, a plan which he said could be operational quickly but which diplomats said faced challenges.
Under the plan presented by President Nikos Christodoulides at a humanitarian conference in Paris, aid would be sent by sea to Gaza from the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, the closet European Union member state about 370 km (230 miles) away.
“We hope immediately to implement it,” he said of the 25-page proposal.
The plan is aimed at expanding capacity for humanitarian relief to the Gaza Strip beyond limited deliveries being made through the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the Palestinian enclave since Israel began it air and ground offensive in Gaza.
Diplomats cautioned that the plan faced logistical, political and also security challenges.
The deliveries through Rafah did not start until about two weeks into the offensive launched by Israel in response to a deadly Palestinian attack in southern Israel on Oct. 7.
The process has been marred by diplomatic wrangling centred on Israeli demands over inspections, and distribution of the aid has been hampered by security concerns and a lack of fuel.
The construction of port infrastructure off Gaza started in 2016, but was later abandoned.
There was no immediate comment from Israel on the Cypriot proposal.
Christodoulides said the operations centre would be based in the southern Cypriot city of Larnaca, where there is a port and airport, and where a coordination centre with 33 countries is already in place.
The port’s capacity would be 200,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid, enabling 2,000 tonnes of aid transfers per vessel.
Humanitarian aid would arrive in Cyprus and sent on vessels checked daily by a joint committee including Israel, he said.
Once loaded, convoys would be followed by warships to an area identified on the Gaza coast, from where it would be sent to a safe, neutral area.
“For the medium and long-term there are several steps to designate a port and adapted floating harbour,” Christodoulides said, adding that the European Commission, Greece, France and the Netherlands were keen to get involved.
“We need to identify a zone in the south of Gaza to create the port infrastructure,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said. “If these conditions are fulfilled Greece would be ready to help with naval ships.”
On top of the Cypriot proposal, diplomats said France had also suggested taking the idea further and expanding the corridor to evacuate severely wounded people onto hospital ships in the Mediterranean off Gaza. An Israeli official said this week that these discussions were “still ongoing”.
(Additonal reporting by Aidan Lewis in Cairo, and Jonathan Saul and Crispian Balmer in Jerusalem, Editing by Timothy Heritage)