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Young people gather on top of a hill in Al-Sahra, central Gaza on April 23, 2024 (Photo -/AFP via Getty Images)

Much-needed food aid for Gaza left Cyprus this Saturday, weeks after humanitarian efforts in the besieged region were severely disrupted following an Israeli airstrike that killed seven World Central Kitchen (WCK) workers.

The deaths of the aid workers, six of whom were foreigners, sparked an international scandal against Israel, which claimed responsibility for the deaths. The incident caused at least three aid providers to suspend operations in Gaza, including WCK, which was instrumental in a new and increasingly busy sea route from Cyprus.

The UAE is now partnering with an aid agency to send critical aid to Gaza through the Israeli port of Ashdod. A United Arab Emirates official told CNN that a ship carrying critical food left this Saturday thanks to a partnership with the American Near East Refugee Agency (ANERA).

The ship, named “Jennifer,” left the port of Larnaca in Cyprus at 9 a.m. local time (2 a.m. ET) and will take 25 to 30 hours to reach the Israeli port of Ashdod, the West Bank's heart of Mohanat, the ANERA emergency station said.

Itayam told CNN that the 400 tons of aid would arrive through an Israeli security clearance. From there, they will be loaded onto trucks that will travel south to the Kerem Shalom border before entering Gaza.

A UAE official said that together with Anera, it “aims to provide vital aid to the people of Gaza” and that the first opportunity for trucks to leave Kerem Shalom would be tomorrow, Wednesday morning.

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ANERA wants to use the Erez crossing into Gaza, but it is not ready to receive aid trucks, Itayam told CNN, adding that the aid agency hopes to open it in a week or 10 days.

He said his teams on the ground, “supported by community members and vetted by ANERA,” would physically distribute the aid once the aid entered Gaza, adding that the organization was coordinating with Israeli coordination of government operations in the territories. (COGAT).

Heart said the plan is for most of the food aid to go to northern Gaza, but depending on the security situation, Anera may consider sending a ship to the south as well.

“Currently, the UAE has delivered more than 31,000 tonnes of emergency supplies, including food, relief and medical supplies, via 249 aircraft, 38 airdrops, 1,160 trucks and three ships,” the UAE told CNN. It will continue to explore “all avenues” to increase aid to the enclave.

Ashdod port on April 5, 2024, after the Israeli Cabinet approved the temporary use of the port to ship aid to Gaza. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

The news came hours after the Royal Navy announced that its support ship “RFA Cardigan Bay” had left Cyprus to support international efforts to build a temporary dock off the coast of Gaza.

The United States has already begun building a ship to help bring humanitarian aid to Gaza, the Pentagon said Thursday.

According to a Royal Navy statement, the British ship “will provide accommodation for hundreds of American sailors and soldiers working to establish the docks”.

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“It is essential to create channels for vital humanitarian aid to reach the people of Gaza,” said UK Defense Secretary Grant Shabbs, adding that “Britain's contribution to the program is critical to expanding” aid flows to Gaza.

The statement said British forces were working with American forces in the US and Cyprus to “jointly develop a safer and more effective sea route”.

A senior US military official confirmed on Thursday that they were already on track to “start delivering humanitarian aid from the sea to Gaza in early May”.

In Gaza, aid is slowly trickling in, but not enough to provide adequate relief to Palestinians, aid agencies say.

“People need food aid every day, we can get trucks every day, but not enough,” Matthew Hollingworth of the World Food Program said earlier.

Gaza's 2.2 million people do not have enough food to eat, and half of the population on the brink of famine is expected to arrive in the north “anytime between mid-March and May,” according to the Integrated Classification of Food Security Phases (IPC).

CNN's Nadeen Ebrahim, Jeremy Diamond, Eugenia Yosef, Alex Marquardt and Mostafa Salem contributed reporting.

Eden Hayes

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