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Gaza aid to flow as US military completes floating pier

The US military has finished building a floating pier for maritime delivery of aid into Gaza.

The US military has finished building a floating pier for maritime delivery of aid into Gaza. Photo: CENTCOM via Getty

The US military has finished installing a floating pier for the Gaza Strip, 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, overnight construction on Thursday sets up a complicated delivery process more than two months after US President Joe Biden ordered it to help Palestinians facing starvation as food and other supplies fail to make it in, as Israel recently seized the key Rafah border crossing in its push on that southern city on the Egyptian border.

Fraught with logistical, weather and security challenges, the maritime route is designed to bolster the amount of aid getting into the Gaza Strip, but it is not considered a substitute for far cheaper land-based deliveries that aid agencies say are much more sustainable.

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

US troops will not set foot in Gaza, American officials insist, though they acknowledge the danger of operating near the war zone.

Heavy fighting between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants on the outskirts of Rafah has displaced some 600,000 people, one-quarter of Gaza’s population, UN officials say.

Another 100,000 civilians have fled parts of northern Gaza now that the Israeli military has restarted combat operations there.

Pentagon officials said the fighting in Gaza wasn’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 US 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 who are working,” said Navy Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, a deputy commander at the US military’s Central Command.

“We are confident in the ability of this security arrangement to protect those involved.”

US troops anchored the pier at 7.40am local time on Thursday, the military’s Central Command said in a statement, which stressed that none of its forces entered the Gaza Strip. 

“Trucks carrying humanitarian assistance are expected to begin moving ashore in the coming days,” the statement said. “The United Nations will receive the aid and coordinate its distribution into Gaza.”

It wasn’t immediately clear which UN agency would be involved. 

Israeli forces will be in charge of security on the shore, but there are also two US Navy warships near the area in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, the USS Arleigh Burke and the USS Paul Ignatius.

Both ships are destroyers equipped with a wide range of weapons and capabilities to protect American troops off shore and allies on the beach. 

Aid agencies say they are running out of food in southern Gaza and fuel is dwindling, which will force hospitals to shut down critical operations and halt truck deliveries of aid.

The United Nations and other agencies have warned for weeks that an Israel assault on Rafah, which is on the border with Egypt near the main aid entry points, would cripple humanitarian operations and cause a disastrous surge in civilian casualties. 

More than 1.4 million Palestinians, half of Gaza’s population, have been sheltering in Rafah, most after fleeing Israel’s offensives elsewhere.

The first cargo ship loaded with 475 pallets of food left Cyprus last week to rendezvous with a US military ship, the Roy P. Benavidez, which is off the coast of Gaza.

-AP

Topics: Gaza
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