The European Union is looking at ways it can establish a maritime corridor to accelerate the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza despite port infrastructure in the Palestinian enclave being destroyed.
But the initiative, first made public by French President Emmanuel Macron following the European Council summit in late October and since dubbed “Amalthea” after the foster mother of Zeus in Greek mythology, has however been mired by logistical and political challenges.
"(A) maritime corridor is one of the possibilities we would support," Janez Lenarčič, the European Commissioner for Crisis Management told reporters on Monday as he arrived at a Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels.
"The logistical problem with the maritime corridor is the fact that there is no — at the moment on the Gaza coast — there is no landing and offloading facility so that would have to be put in place," he added.
A European diplomat later insisted to Euronews that "it is doable, if there is political will."
'High-volume, high-frequency phased delivery'
The Cypriot government, which is championing the initiative, already presented some of its plans to the international community during a humanitarian conference in Paris last week. President Nikos Christodoulides said afterward that the idea "has been gaining traction and political endorsement as a sustainable, reliable, secure and viable route for humanitarian aid to Gaza."
He added that the EU country "stands ready to work closely with everyone that is interested in servicing this ultimate humanitarian goal."
Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos meanwhile detailed the plans to his EU counterparts on Monday, telling reporters ahead of the meeting that three underlying factors support Cyprus's actions.
“First, geographical proximity to Gaza; secondly the pre-existing infrastructure in Cyprus; and finally the strategic relations with key stakeholders in the region creating political trust," he said.
Cyprus, he added, would provide "a secure, fully-monitored, quarantined hub with various options for high-volume, high-frequency, phased delivery" of humanitarian aid.
One ship equals 500 trucks
Nicosia believes it can provide that thanks to its harbour, described as a "crisis management port", which sits just 10kms away from an airport, and because of its "Center for Land Open Seas and Port Security" (CYCLOPS). The Cyprus-owned training facility, established in close cooperation with the United States, was set up to "bolster security capacity-building in Cyprus, the EU, the wider Eastern Mediterranean region, and beyond."
The country's Joint Rescue Coordination Centre meanwhile coordinates, controls, and carries out search and rescue operations with 33 partner countries.
Its geographical proximity to Gaza — it is the closest EU country to the enclave sitting some 210 nautical miles away — means it would take 11 to 12 hours for ships to travel from Larnaka to Gaza.
But one of the main arguments from the Cypriot government is that one ship could carry the same amount of humanitarian supplies as 500 trucks — the number that used to cross into Gaza daily before the latest escalation. Now though, this number has fallen to 60-70 per day because of security controls and restrictions at the Rafah crossing, the only land crossing into Gaza that's currently open.
The corridor, Cyprus also says, would prevent the delays that have been observed in Egypt where humanitarian aid from across the world is first sent before crossing into Gaza.
A 'provisional port'
But as Gaza's port has been destroyed by Israeli bombing in retaliation for the October 7 terrorist attack carried out by Hamas in which 1,400 Israelis were killed and more than 240 were kidnapped there is currently no infrastructure to receive the aid.
A possible option would be to deliver the aid to another harbour in the region, such as in Egypt. This, however, is not seen as the best option because while the maritime route would allow for faster and more plentiful deliveries to Egypt, once there, the aid would be subjected to the same delays as currently.
Delivery straight to Gaza is therefore preferred.
"Our understanding is that the only possibility for that is to build some kind of a provisional port or something like military people do," a senior EU official said last week. "That takes time, it is difficult."
Especially, diplomats have told Euronews, as there is no way of knowing how long this infrastructure would be needed and therefore how much it needs to withstand.
“If you need to transfer humanitarian aid for a long time, then you need something more stable. But the truth is that we don’t know yet," an EU diplomat said.
Would Israel agree?
Another unknown is who would receive this aid and deliver it across Gaza.
The Egyptian Red Crescent is currently the only organisation mandated by Cairo to handle humanitarian aid flowing into the country for Gaza, which they then deliver to their Palestinian counterpart at the Rafah crossing.
Cyprus, diplomatic sources have told Euronews, is already discussing with NGOs on the ground in order to be ready should the plan go ahead.
But there is another limitation.
"Obviously we need the agreement of the Israeli government to do that and we need certain security conditions for that to work exactly the same that we do when we try to bring our humanitarian aid through the different crossing points in Rafah and between Gaza and the rest of the world," the senior EU official said.
Discussions with the Israeli government are already ongoing, sources say.