U.S. sends ship to build Gaza aid pier; Biden expresses hope for cease-fire

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A U.S. Army vessel loaded with equipment to build a floating pier off Gaza’s coastline has departed Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia for the eastern Mediterranean, U.S. Central Command said.

The initiative — announced by President Biden during his State of the Union address Thursday — is intended to form part of a broader “maritime corridor” for aid that the United States and its allies have pledged to establish into Gaza, where U.N. officials say over half a million Palestinians are surviving on the brink of famine.

The pier could take as long as 60 days to build, but once established, it could facilitate the delivery of 2 million daily meals into the enclave, the Pentagon said last week. On Saturday, Centcom said the dispatched logistics support vessel “is carrying the first equipment to establish a temporary pier to deliver vital humanitarian supplies.”

In a statement the same day, Israel Defense Forces spokesman Daniel Hagari said Israel was coordinating the establishment of the temporary pier with the United States. He said aid “will be distributed by international organizations until it reaches Gazan civilians in need.”

A Gaza cease-fire by Ramadan? What to know about the holy month.

Biden expressed optimism on Saturday that a Gaza cease-fire deal ahead of Ramadan, which begins Monday, was still “possible.”

“My CIA director [is] in that region right at this minute still talking about it,” Biden said in an interview on MSNBC, referring to William J. Burns. “I think it’s always possible. I never give up on that.” However, Biden also said a day earlier that a cease-fire by the first fast of the Muslim holy month was “looking tough” amid stalled negotiations.

The proposed deal would pause fighting for six weeks to free some hostages held by Hamas in exchange for Palestinians in Israeli prisons, as well as increased humanitarian aid for civilians in Gaza. But Hamas has been pressing for a more durable end to the fighting, which Israel opposes.

In a briefing on March 8, Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said the U.S. would establish a temporary pier to deliver aid to Gazans. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Susan Walsh/AP/The Washington Post)

In Saturday’s television interview, Biden said he thinks Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “hurting Israel more than he’s helping Israel” and urged him to “pay more attention to the innocent lives being lost as a consequence of the actions taken.”

He said an Israeli invasion of Rafah, in southern Gaza, would cross a “red line,” though he said: “I’m never gonna leave Israel.” Biden said there was “no red line” in which he would “cut off all weapons so they don’t have the Iron Dome to protect them.”

The United States sees the potential cease-fire deal as the first of three phases to secure the release of hostages and give civilians in Gaza relief during Ramadan, The Washington Post reported. Burns toured the Middle East over the past several days trying to push talks over the finish line.

Civilian suffering in Gaza has worsened, with hunger and a lack of aid beginning to claim lives, local health officials say. At least 25 people have died from malnutrition and dehydration, the Gaza Health Ministry said Saturday. A 2-month-old baby and a 20-year-old woman were the latest casualties.

16 children have died of malnutrition in aid-starved Gaza, health officials say

Aid groups say the crisis is man-made, the result of insufficient entry points for supplies, Israel’s arduous inspections and attacks by Israel on U.N. aid convoys and the police securing them.

Jordan carried out 10 aid airdrops in northern Gaza on Saturday, in an operation with Egypt, the United States, France and Belgium, the prime minister of Jordan tweeted. U.S. C-130s dropped 41,400 meals and 23,000 bottles of water in the area, Centcom said, where the need for aid is the greatest.

Here’s what else to know

Israel’s military said it identified “approximately 35 launches” from Lebanon toward northern Israel on Sunday, intercepting an unspecified number of them. Hezbollah militants and Israeli forces have exchanged fire on a near daily basis across the border, with fears mounting that the tension could erupt into a full-scale conflict.

The United States and its allies shot down at least 28 Houthi drones in the Red Sea, Centcom said Saturday. “No U.S. or Coalition Navy vessels were damaged in the attack and there were also no reports by commercial ships of damage,” the statement said.

At least 31,045 people have been killed and 72,654 injured in Gaza since the war began, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. Israel estimates that about 1,200 people were killed in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack and says 248 soldiers have been killed since the start of its military operation in Gaza.

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