US: Gaza pier project ready for aid

The U.S. military has finished installing a floating pier off the Gaza Strip to allow humanitarian aid to enter the region as the Israel-Hamas war continues.

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World News

May 16, 2024 - 2:44 PM

In this image provided by the U.S. Army, soldiers assigned to the 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary) and sailors attached to the MV Roy P. Benavidez assemble the Roll-On, Roll-Off Distribution Facility (RRDF), or floating pier, off the shore of Gaza on April 26. Photo by U.S. Army via AP

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. military finished installing a floating pier off the Gaza Strip on Thursday, with officials poised to begin ferrying badly needed humanitarian aid into the enclave besieged over seven months of intense fighting in the Israel-Hamas war.

The final construction sets up a complicated delivery process more than two months after U.S. President Joe Biden ordered it to help starving Palestinians as Israeli restrictions on border crossings and heavy fighting prevent food and other supplies from making it into Gaza.

Fraught with logistical, weather and security challenges, the pier project — expected to cost $320 million — is designed to bolster the amount of aid getting into the Gaza Strip, but it is not considered a substitute for far cheaper deliveries by land that aid agencies say are much more sustainable.

The boatloads of aid will be deposited at a port facility built by the Israelis just southwest of Gaza City and then distributed by aid groups.

U.S. officials said Thursday as much as 500 tons of food will begin arriving on the Gaza shore within days and that the U.S. has closely coordinated with Israel on how to protect the ships and personnel working on the beach.

But there are still questions on how aid groups will safely operate in Gaza to distribute food to those who need it most, said Sonali Korde, assistant to the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, which is helping with logistics.

“There is a very insecure operating environment” and aid groups are still struggling to get clearance for their planned movements in Gaza, Korde said. Those talks with the Israeli military “need to get to a place where humanitarian aid workers feel safe and secure and able to operate safely. And I don’t think we’re there yet.”

Fighting between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants on the outskirts of the southern city of Rafah as well as Israel restarting combat operations in parts of northern Gaza have displaced some 700,000 people, U.N. officials say. Israel recently seized the key Rafah border crossing in its push against Hamas.

Pentagon officials say the fighting isn’t threatening the new shoreline aid distribution area, but they have made it clear that security conditions will be monitored closely and could prompt a shutdown of the maritime route, even just temporarily.

Already, the site has been targeted by mortar fire during its construction, and Hamas has threatened to target any foreign forces who “occupy” the Gaza Strip.

The “protection of U.S. forces participating is a top priority. And as such, in the last several weeks, the United States and Israel have developed an integrated security plan to protect all the personnel,” said Navy Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, a deputy commander at the U.S. military’s Central Command. “We are confident in the ability of this security arrangement to protect those involved.”

U.S. troops anchored the pier Thursday morning, Central Command said, stressing that none of its forces entered the Gaza Strip and would not during the pier’s operations. It said trucks with aid would move ashore in the coming days and “the United Nations will receive the aid and coordinate its distribution into Gaza.”

The World Food Program will be the U.N. agency handling the aid, officials said.

Israeli forces will be in charge of security on shore, but there are also two U.S. Navy warships near the area, the USS Arleigh Burke and the USS Paul Ignatius. Both are destroyers equipped with a wide range of weapons and capabilities to protect American troops offshore and allies on the beach.

The British logistics ship RFA Cardigan Bay will also provide support, Cooper said.

Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Nadav Shoshani confirmed that the pier had been attached and that Israeli engineering units had flattened ground around the area and surfaced roads for trucks.

“We have been working for months on full cooperation with (the U.S. military) on this project, facilitating it, supporting it in any way possible,” Shoshani said. “It’s a top priority in our operation.”

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