How the U.S. military will use a floating pier to deliver Gaza aid

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The U.S. military anticipates that a floating pier, to be built off Gaza’s coastline in coming weeks, will enable delivery of 2 million meals daily to Palestinians facing starvation, the Pentagon said Friday, describing its plan to address the worsening humanitarian crisis there without deploying American personnel directly into the war zone.

Construction of the offshore pier and causeway connecting it to land will take as long as 60 days and require about 1,000 U.S. troops, Maj. Gen. Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters.

President Biden announced the initiative during his State of the Union address Thursday, as hopes dim for a another cease-fire in Israel’s five-month war with Hamas and his administration contends with withering criticism for the vast supply of U.S. weapons that have contributed to the conflict’s massive civilian death toll. It’s one element of a broader “maritime corridor” that the United States and other countries have pledged to establish amid growing concerns about the situation.

The perceived need for the floating structure is a reflection of the political land mines that have stymied efforts to get humanitarian aid to those trapped by the fighting.

Israel’s deep-water port at Ashdod is less than 25 miles from Gaza, but Israeli officials have refused to open its northern border crossing. Egypt’s El Arish port, just south of Gaza, has been a key arrival point for assistance. But all shipments must go through a laborious process of loading onto trucks that travel to an Israeli inspection site, only to be unloaded and reloaded again to then join an ever-growing line of vehicles waiting to enter the Palestinian territory.

About 576,000 people — more than a quarter of the enclave’s population — are on the brink of famine, United Nations officials said. Gaza’s Health Ministry said earlier this week that at least 20 people there have died of malnutrition and dehydration.

There is “dire, urgent need” for relief, Ryder said in outlining what he characterized as an “emergency mission” still being finalized.

U.S. troops, including the Army’s 7th Transportation Brigade based in Virginia, will take part in the effort. The operation will include construction of a floating pier at sea that will allow ships to deliver aid, which will then be loaded onto Navy support vessels and offloaded onto a floating causeway. The two-lane causeway, about 1,800 feet in length, will be steered onto a landing site ashore and secured to the ground by non-U. S. personnel whom Ryder did not identify. Trucks will then access the causeway to pick up and haul the aid.

Washington is coordinating with other countries in the region, the United Nations and humanitarian groups to determine how the aid will be distributed once it arrives on land, Ryder said. American personnel stay either on the causeway or on the ships, he said.

Asked whether the Pentagon believes Hamas fighters will target U.S. forces operating offshore, Ryder said that’s “certainly possible.” He added that, “If Hamas truly does care about the Palestinian people, then … one would hope that this international mission to deliver aid to people who need it would be able to happen unhindered.”

Biden told reporters Friday that Israel would provide security for the effort. Ryder said the military units involved would have their own force-protection capabilities.

Aid will be routed through Cyprus, where the goods will undergo inspection by Israel.

Deliveries of non-U. S. humanitarian aid to Gaza by sea could begin this weekend, a senior European official said earlier Friday. European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said that the besieged enclave faces a “catastrophe.”

“That is why today the Republic of Cyprus, the European Commission, the United Arab Emirates and the United States — of course also supported by other critical partners — announced our intent to open the maritime corridor to deliver much-needed additional amounts of humanitarian assistance by sea,” she said.

World Central Kitchen, a relief group founded by chef José Andrés, is providing food aid for the mission, as well as “teams in Cyprus and Gaza,” he wrote on social media.

Several logistical and security challenges are expected as the program is begun, according to Jamie McGoldrick, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory. “What happens after the aid arrives at the harbor? How does it get on trucks and out to distribution? Those are questions that I don’t think have been answered yet,” he said.

Relief efforts in Gaza are already overstretched, as trucks and fuel remain in short supply. And once the aid makes it to shore, it will face the same distribution challenges as aid that reaches the territory by land.

“The problem we are facing right now is that many of the roads are not operational, or on the roads that are open, it’s difficult to get though the crowds and congestion,” McGoldrick said.

The floating pier operation has underscored the limits of airdropping aid, a complex mission dangerous to civilians below and one that provides relatively little relief in a situation like the Israeli war in Gaza.

Five people were killed and 12 injured there on Friday, said Mahmoud Bassal, Gaza’s civil defense spokesman, after an apparent parachute malfunction caused a loaded crate to fall on some people. Ryder disputed reports that an airdrop from a U.S. aircraft was to blame.

“All of our aid bundles landed safely on the ground,” Ryder said, adding that initial reports of the incident came shortly before U.S. aircraft sent their loads out of C-130 aircraft.

The United States will continue precautions to reduce risk, Ryder said, like limiting pallet weight, identifying drop zones with fewer people and sending messages to civilians before dropping the aid.

Victoria Bisset, Cate Brown, Karen DeYoung and Susannah George contributed to this report.



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