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US military says Gaza floating pier completed, aid to soon flow as war rages


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.

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, a 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 US 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.”

Part of the floating pier during construction last month. Photo: US Central Command via Reuters

US troops anchored the pier at 7.40am local time 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.

A woman sits amid the debris in Gaza City. Photo: AFP

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.

The pallets of aid on the MV Sagamore were moved onto the Benavidez. The Pentagon said moving the aid between ships was an effort to be ready so it could flow quickly once the pier and the causeway were installed.

The installation of the pier several kilometres off the coast and of the causeway, which is now anchored to the beach, was delayed for nearly two weeks because of bad weather and high seas.

The sea conditions made it too dangerous for US and Israeli troops to secure the causeway to the shore and do other final assembly work, US officials said.

A crane loads food aid for Gaza onto the container ship Sagamore in Cyprus. Photo: AP

According to a defence official, the Sagamore’s initial shipment was estimated to provide enough to feed 11,000 people for one month. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to provide details not yet made public.

US military leaders have said the deliveries of aid will begin slowly to ensure the system works. They will start with about 90 truckloads of aid a day through the sea route, and that number will quickly grow to about 150 a day.

But aid agencies say that isn’t enough to avert impending famine in Gaza and must be just one part of a broader Israeli effort to open land corridors.

Biden used his State of the Union address on March 7 to order the military to set up a temporary pier off the coast of Gaza, establishing a sea route to deliver food and other aid.

Destroyed buildings in the Gaza Strip. Photo: AFP

Food shipments have been backed up at land crossings amid Israeli restrictions and intensifying fighting.

Under the new sea route, humanitarian aid is dropped off in Cyprus, where it will undergo inspection and security checks at Larnaca port. It is then loaded onto ships – mainly commercial vessels – and taken about 320km to the large floating pier built by the US military off the Gaza coast.

There, the pallets are transferred onto trucks, driven onto smaller US Army boats and then shuttled several kilometres to the floating causeway, which has been anchored onto the beach by the Israeli military.

The trucks, which are being driven by personnel from another country, will go down the causeway into a secure area on land where they will drop off the aid and immediately turn around and return to the boats.

Aid groups will collect the supplies for distribution on shore, with the UN working with the US Agency for International Development to set up the logistics hub on the beach.

Sabrina Singh, Pentagon spokeswoman, told reporters that the project will cost at least US$320 million, including the transport of the equipment and pier sections from the United States to the coast of Gaza, as well as the construction and aid delivery operations.



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