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Humanitarian aid ship completes first food delivery to Gaza by sea

A displaced Palestinian boy selling detergent in small packages looks for customers at a makeshift camp beside a street in Rafah, Gaza, on Wednesday.  (Mohammed Abed/AFP)
By Kelsey Ables and Adela Suliman Washington Post

A humanitarian aid ship has completed the first aid delivery by sea to Gaza via a new maritime corridor, unloading 200 tons of food and water to the besieged enclave, the nonprofit World Central Kitchen said Saturday. A second aid ship is preparing to sail from Cyprus, the group said.

“All cargo was offloaded and is being readied for distribution in Gaza,” World Central Kitchen said in a statement. The cargo included “pallets of canned goods and bulk product – including beans, carrots, canned tuna, chickpeas, canned corn, parboiled rice, flour, oil and salt.” It also included 120 kilograms of fresh dates – commonly eaten to break fasts during the Islamic month of Ramadan.

The maritime mission dubbed “Operation Safeena,” meaning boat in Arabic, was dispatched by World Central Kitchen, a U.S. nonprofit founded by chef José Andrés, and the Spanish search-and-rescue group Open Arms this week. The Israel Defense Forces has previously said that the food aid would be transferred to trucks operated by the nonprofit, which would “distribute them to northern Gaza.”

U.N. officials have warned that Gaza is on the brink of famine, with the situation particularly dire in the north. On Friday, UNICEF warned that almost 1 in 3 children under age 2 in northern Gaza was suffering from acute malnutrition, up from 15.6% in January, based on nutrition screenings it and partners had conducted. At least 27 people, mostly children, have died of malnutrition or dehydration in recent weeks, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

Aid deliveries to Gaza have become increasingly precarious, with the number of aid trucks plummeting; humanitarian officials say Israel has limited land entry points and targeted civilian police responsible for protecting the convoys. Countries, including the United States, have taken to air dropping aid – a costly and dangerous procedure – while President Joe Biden has announced plans for the U.S. military to construct a floating pier off Gaza’s coast – something that could take up to 60 days to construct.

World Central Kitchen said Saturday’s aid was offloaded via a jetty the group built on the coast of Gaza and that the second ship could carry two forklifts and a crane to assist with future maritime deliveries. It said it had no information on when the second boat, which will carry 240 tons of food aid, might set sail.

Here’s what else to know

• Israel said Friday that it will send a delegation to Qatar to continue negotiations for the release of Hamas-held hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners in Israel.

• Biden praised a recent speech by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) that criticized Netanyahu’s government and called for Israel to hold a new election. Biden described it as “a good speech” that “expressed a serious concern shared not only by (Schumer) but by many Americans.” Israeli officials criticized Schumer’s remarks, with Israel’s ambassador to the United States calling it “counterproductive to our common goals.”

- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has approved plans for a military operation in Rafah, his office said Friday. The statement did not provide additional details about the offensive, which is opposed by several world leaders and humanitarian organizations, who say it could be devastating for the more than 1.4 million Palestinians estimated to be seeking refuge in the city. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Vienna on Friday that the Biden administration had not seen a plan from Israel detailing how it would protect civilians if the military moves into the densely populated city.

- At least 20 people were killed and more than 150 were injured late Thursday while awaiting aid in northern Gaza, in what Palestinian officials in the enclave said was an Israeli attack. Witnesses interviewed by The Washington Post said they saw an Israeli helicopter and drones randomly firing on Palestinians. The Israeli military denied responsibility for the killings and late Friday released edited footage of what it said showed “Palestinian gunmen opening fire in the midst of Gazan civilians.” The accounts from witnesses and the IDF could not be independently corroborated.

- More than a dozen authors have dropped out of a PEN America festival, citing the literary nonprofit’s inaction over the war in Gaza. Naomi Klein, Hisham Matar and Maaza Mengiste are among the writers who have said they will not be participating in the annual PEN World Voices Festival this year, criticizing the organization for failing to call “for an immediate and unconditional cease-fire.” The nonprofit has said on its website that it has “done considerable work in response to the war. Some has been public, and some has been behind the scenes to protect the imperiled artists and writers we are assisting.”

- At least 31,553 people have been killed and 73,546 injured in Gaza since the war began, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. Israel estimates that about 1,200 people were killed in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack and says 249 soldiers have been killed since the start of its military operation in Gaza•