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U.S. Army Soldiers and Israel Defense Forces anchor the Trident Pier on the Gaza coast, May 16, 2024. U.S. Army Photo

U.S. Army Soldiers and Israel Defense Forces anchor the Trident Pier on the Gaza coast, May 16, 2024. U.S. Army Photo

U.S. Anchors Temporary Pier in Gaza

Reuters
Total Views: 1351
May 16, 2024
Reuters

By Jonathan Landay and Michelle Nichols

WASHINGTON/UNITED NATIONS, May 16 (Reuters) – The United States anchored a floating pier in Gaza on Thursday to boost aid deliveries, but Washington is facing the same challenges that have beset the United Nations and aid groups for months when it comes to distributing assistance to millions in need amid a war between Israel and Palestinian militants Hamas.

These include a dire shortage of fuel and working in a conflict zone. The United Nations said on Thursday it was still finalizing its operational plans to handle the distribution of aid once it comes off the pier.

Aid trucks are expected to begin moving ashore in the coming days, the U.S. said on Thursday when announcing the anchoring of the temporary pier. But the U.N. and humanitarian agencies said there were challenges still to be resolved.

“If you’ve got an active war zone like Gaza is … internal distribution security is really difficult, compounded by the lack of fuel,” U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths told Reuters in an interview on Thursday.

President Joe Biden announced the pier in March as the U.N. implored Israel to improve access for relief supplies into Gaza over land routes. By opening a route to deliver aid by sea, the U.S. hopes to combat the humanitarian crisis that has put hundreds of thousands of people at risk of famine.

The project has been expensive and slow. Bad weather has delayed the pier that is estimated to cost $320 million and involve 1,000 U.S. troops. 

The U.N. has been adamant that maritime access was no substitute for land.

“To stave off the horrors of famine, we must use the fastest and most obvious route to reach the people of Gaza – and for that, we need access by land now,” deputy U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq said on Thursday. “Getting aid to people in need into and across Gaza cannot and should not depend on a floating dock far from where needs are most acute.”

The United Nations and aid groups have long complained of the dangers and obstacles to getting aid in and distributing it throughout Gaza.

The U.N. has so far lost 191 staff – including its first foreign staff member on Monday – during the more than seven-month-long war between Israel and Palestinian militants Hamas in the coastal enclave of 2.3 million people.

“The first few days of any operation like this, there will be a lot of trial and error,” said a U.N. official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “And we just hope that this trial and error doesn’t end up in someone getting killed.” 

Israel is retaliating against Hamas over an Oct. 7 attack in which Israel says militants killed about 1,200 people and took more than 250 people hostage. Gaza health authorities say Israel has killed more than 35,000 people in Gaza since then.

Top U.N. officials and aid groups accuse Israel of impeding aid deliveries into and within Gaza, but Israel denies that it has constrained aid operations and instead blames the United Nations for any problems.

A COMPLEX PATH FOR AID

Aid deliveries via the maritime corridor are already on the way. A British shipment of nearly 100 tonnes of aid left Cyprus on Wednesday, while a U.S.-flagged vessel left Cyprus last week.

Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, the deputy commander of U.S. Central Command, said on Thursday that thousands of tonnes of aid was in the pipeline, adding: “We’re going to get (onshore) about 500 tons in the next couple of days.”

U.S. officials have said the pier would initially handle 90 trucks a day, but that number could go to 150 trucks.

The United Nations has said 500 trucks a day are needed to enter Gaza. In April, it said the highest volume of humanitarian and commercial supplies that have entered Gaza since the war started has been an average of 189 trucks a day. 

But aid access has dwindled since Israel began a military operation in Gaza’s southern Rafah region.

A severe fuel shortage in Gaza has forced the U.N. to warn that aid operations could be shut down. Haq said: “It doesn’t matter how the aid comes, whether it’s by sea or whether by land, without fuel it won’t get to the people who need it.”

Sonali Korde, assistant to the administrator of USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, said on Thursday that she expected to have the fuel necessary to operate the pier.

The Israeli military, a source with knowledge of the operation said, agreed to make sufficient supplies available for the operation “on a regular, predictable” basis.

Aid will be shipped from Cyprus, where Israel will first inspect the cargoes. U.S. troops operating the pier will not step ashore in Gaza.

Once on land, the aid coming off the pier will follow a challenging, and still uncertain, path to reach Gaza civilians. 

According to U.S. and U.N. officials, a third party will collect the aid from the pier, drive it a short distance and then offload it for U.N. collection. The U.N. official said another third party – contracted by the U.N. – will load the aid on to trucks and take it to distribution points acrossGaza.

The U.N. official said there is a plan for U.N. staff to be stationed near the pier to oversee and direct aid trucks to distribution points throughout Gaza, but that it has not yet been approved by the U.N. Department of Safety and Security. 

A U.N. team visiting the pier site late last month had to shelter in a bunker after the area came under fire. The U.N. has been concerned about ensuring neutrality by remaining an appropriate distance from the Israeli military, which will provide security and logistics support for the pier.

The U.N. official said “at no point” will there be any contact between the Israeli military and U.N. staff. 

(Additional reporting by Emma Farge, Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali, Trevor Hunnicutt; editing by Don Durfee, Diane Craft, Ros Russell, Alexandra Hudson)

 (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2024.

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