Presidency of the Republic of Cyprus

The maritime corridor for providing humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza will probably be launched next Sunday, the President of the European Commission, Ms Ursula von der Leyen, said today, following her inspection of the relevant installations at Larnaka port along with the President of the Republic, Mr Nikos Christodoulides.

Afterwards, both Presidents visited the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) in Larnaka, where they made remarks to the media.

In his statement, the President of the Republic said: “I welcome you today in Cyprus, here at the Joint Rescue and Coordination Centre, as a valuable partner and true friend of Cyprus.

Cyprus, our Union’s most south-eastern corner, stands as the lighthouse of the European Union in this important and challenging region. This is the unique perspective that Cyprus brings to the European Union.

The Middle East is also Europe’s neighbourhood and it is a crucial one where Europe’s role and leadership are required.

Dear Ursula, your presence is a demonstration of this role and leadership.

What happens in the Middle East concerns us directly as Europeans. The war across the sea from Cyprus is not a regional crisis of limited concern or impact. The spillover of the crisis will be even more catastrophic with profound consequences for the region and beyond. And we have a responsibility to act.

During the discussions with the President, we spoke of our shared concern as regards the severely deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza. What is unfolding before our eyes is a humanitarian tragedy.

It is blatantly clear that there is an urgent need to deliver aid to civilians as effectively as possible. The Cyprus maritime corridor aims at scaling up aid by complementing other routes that include the all-important Rafah crossing from Egypt and the airdrops from Jordan.

It is also clear that we are at a point where we simply have to unlock all possible routes.

Since last October, our team has been working tirelessly on elaborating the one-way maritime corridor to Gaza with Larnaka as its starting point. We did it for no other reason than our belief that as the EU member at the heart of the region, Cyprus bears a moral duty to do its utmost to assist in alleviating the humanitarian crisis, leveraging its role and excellent relations with all countries in the region.

Ursula, Madam President, you were a staunch vocal supporter of the Cyprus maritime corridor from the very beginning. Thank you for your vision and leadership. Cyprus is deeply appreciative of the full support by you personally, by the European Commission, as well as that of the United Arab Emirates, the United States and other partners with whom we have been in intense consultations in the last weeks and months.

At the same time, the UN Special Coordinator and her important mandate to coordinate, increase and standardise the humanitarian assistance going into Gaza are also important elements in making the corridor a sustained, long-term maritime lifeline for the civilians in Gaza.

Today, we stand united by a common vision to alleviate the humanitarian tragedy of the civilians in Gaza, here at the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre, which constitutes an integral facility of the critical infrastructures in the Amalthea Plan. The other critical facility in the Amalthea capsule is CYCLOPS, the Centre for Land, Open Seas and Port Security, established in close cooperation with the United States.

Here at the JRCC, we also monitor all sea traffic going in and out of Cyprus. As we have discussed, the number of migrants from Syria and Lebanon have been consistently increasing in recent months, which is deeply concerning for Cyprus. I look forward to working with you on this, Ursula, and just as we are doing today, to do so in result-oriented manner.

With the President, I also discussed this morning our efforts to resume negotiations on the Cyprus problem, in line with the relevant UNSCRs and EU law, values and principles. A solution to the Cyprus problem would have a resounding regional impact as well. We agreed that the EU can be a driver for developments on the Cyprus question. In this regard, we exchanged views on the state of play in EU-Turkey relations, in which the Cyprus question is, of course, a core component part.

Dear Ursula, once again, it is a great pleasure to host you and your team in Cyprus in order to deliver the implementation of the Amalthea Initiative, of the maritime corridor for the delivery of aid in Gaza.

Our journey only just begins.”

On her part, Mrs von der Leyen said, among other things: “We are here because Palestinians, and in particular those in Gaza, need all our help. The humanitarian situation in Gaza is dire, with innocent Palestinian families and children desperate for basic needs. Today we are facing a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza and we stand by the innocent civilians in Palestine. This is why Europe is financing a major humanitarian aid effort for Palestinians in Gaza and in the region – €250 million this year alone – but the key challenge is to get the aid to the people on the ground in Gaza. We know the difficulties faced at the land borders in Gaza, be it through the Rafah border crossing or through the Jordan Road corridor. And that is why today the Republic of Cyprus, the European Commission, the United Arab Emirates and the United States, of course supported by other critical partners, announced our intent to open the maritime corridor to deliver much needed additional amounts of humanitarian assistance by sea. Toge
ther, our nations intend to build on this model to deliver significant additional aid by sea, so I am extremely grateful to you, Mr. President, dear Nikos, and to the people of Cyprus, for your leadership in establishing the Amalthea initiative. It was impressive to see and to visit the different sites, how it is evolving, supplementing the efforts to deliver significant additional aid. We are launching this Cyprus maritime corridor together: Cyprus, the European Union, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States. And it is your relentless work to get this corridor up and running, despite all the challenges - and this is truly inspiring. We are now very close to the opening of the corridor, hopefully this Sunday. And I am very glad to see that an initial pilot operation will be launched today. Thus, it is the partnership that started it today with the World Central Kitchen, whom I want to thank wholeheartedly for their tireless and so important work.

Cyprus has always been a bridge between Europe and the Middle East and thanks to the Amalthea initiative, it is proving this historical role once again today. I welcome the leadership of President Nikos Christodoulides by serving as a mediator for all parties involved.

And I would like to commend the particular effort of the President of the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed bin Zayed, to mobilise support to activate this corridor by securing the first of many shipments of goods to the people of North Gaza. And I call on all the actors who have a role to play here to help this (initiative) deliver on its potential. One thing is for sure, you can count on us. The maritime corridor can make a real difference in the plight of the Palestinian people. But, in parallel, our efforts to provide assistance to Palestinians through all possible routes, of course, will continue. As part of our EU humanitarian air bridge operation, we have launched 41 flights carrying over 1.800 tonnes of aid and we will consider all other options, including airdrops if our humanitarian partners on the ground consider this effective. But our action does not stop there. We must also focus our attention, our efforts and outreach on preventing an ignition of violence across the whole region. I am in regular c
ontact with President al-Sisi of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan. The situation in the Red Sea is particularly concerning with maritime security deteriorating day after day and critical infrastructure damaged due to the repeated Houthi attacks. This is why we have launched the EU naval force operation Aspides. And I know that Cyprus has deployed two naval officers for this mission and we really thank you for that, Mr President.

With Aspides, Europe is acting to ensure freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, working alongside with our international partners.

Finally, a word on the day after. We agree that we must start preparing today with a viable perspective and this perspective continues to lie in the two-state solution. This requires an immediate humanitarian pause that would lead to a sustainable ceasefire. It is clear that there can be no forced displacement of Palestinians and no blockade of Gaza. But it is equally clear that Gaza cannot be a safe haven for terrorists and that we will keep on calling for the immediate, unconditional release of all hostages held by Hamas.

Europe will continue to help build momentum for this political horizon. So, thank you again, Mr President, dear Nikos, and I want to thank everyone working here at the JRCC. You will play a central role in the Amalthea initiative. You are already playing an important and central role overall in the region here, so something comes on top of your responsibility. You embody Europe's solidarity at its best. And I know that the people of Cyprus themselves know what suffering and loss can feel like. And therefore, we in the European Union stand by you, Mr President, in your efforts to resume the peace talks for the solution of the Cyprus question. Here, too, you can count on us for many things.”