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This week the first aid ship is due to arrive in Gaza from the island of Cyprus

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

This week, the first aid ship is due to arrive in Gaza from the island of Cyprus.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

It comes more than five months into the war between Israel and Hamas. Palestinian children in Gaza are starving to death, and the United Nations says most of the population there is at risk of famine. It's been really difficult to get food in because Israel, citing security concerns, has blocked most shipments by land, so aid groups are now trying to use the sea.

FADEL: NPR's Jane Arraf joins us from Amman, Jordan, to talk about this. Hi, Jane.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So what can you tell us about this ship headed to Gaza?

ARRAF: Well, it's a boat called Open Arms, after the Spanish aid organization that owns it. It set off yesterday pulling a barge loaded with 200 tons of food - things like lentils, rice, canned meat. And that's provided by a U.S.-based aid organization, World Central Kitchen, and its partners. All of this painstakingly coordinated with Israel, which has scanned every package in Cyprus. The groups involved are keeping the exact destination on the Gaza coast and the timing of its arrival under wraps for security. But an Open Arms spokesperson told us because the vessel has to travel so slowly, the trip could actually take several days.

FADEL: You know, Jane, the need is so great - two million people in Gaza, a risk of famine. What difference will this ship make?

ARRAF: Well, by itself, not a huge amount. The food on it is really the equivalent of what could be carried by about 10 trucks. But the thing is, there are thousands of trucks backed up at the main border crossing with Gaza that have waited weeks for Israeli approval. This operation, though, Leila, is a test of the sea route and whether it can be scaled up to deliver a lot more aid. That would involve a jetty, which the aid groups involved say they're building now.

I spoke with the founder of World Central Kitchen, who's in D.C. It's Jose Andres, the celebrity chef. And his organization has been feeding people suffering through war and disaster for more than a decade. Let's listen to what he had to say.

JOSE ANDRES: Nobody should ever be attacked, that nobody should be killed by anybody, that the civilians must be - always be protected, and that, obviously, food and water is a universal right.

ARRAF: Andres says the biggest failure would be not trying to help feed people in Gaza.

FADEL: OK. So you're talking about nongovernmental organizations trying to get in by sea. What are the U.S. and other countries doing to get aid in?

ARRAF: Well, it's become particularly urgent because of the scale of deaths and near starvation there. In fact, the European Union foreign policy chief says starvation is being used as a weapon of war. So the U.S. military is planning to bring in a floating dock off the Gaza coast for more aid to be brought in by sea. Israeli airstrikes have destroyed Gaza's ports. But that's certainly not easy, not least because the U.S. continues to supply Israel with its weapons for war in Gaza, making it a potential target. So critics say instead of building a dock, the U.S. should just pressure Israel to let in much more aid by trucks. But in the meantime, Leila, people in Gaza are desperate for whatever they can get, how ever they can get it.

FADEL: NPR's Jane Arraf. Thank you.

ARRAF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Jane Arraf
Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.