U.S. Military Installs Temporary Pier in Gaza for Aid

The U.S. military anchored a temporary pier on Gaza’s coast on Thursday, creating a point of entry for humanitarian aid for the enclave, where the flow of supplies through land borders has largely come to a halt since Israel began its incursion into Rafah last week.

The aid will be loaded onto trucks that will begin moving ashore “in the coming days,” the U.S. Central Command said in a statement Thursday morning. U.S. officials had said last week that the floating pier and causeway had been completed, but that weather conditions had delayed their installation.

Israel has long opposed a seaport for Gaza, saying it would pose a security threat. As the humanitarian crisis in the territory has spiraled in recent months, with severe shortages of food, medicine and other basic needs, the U.S. military in March announced a plan to build a temporary pier to enable aid shipments via the Mediterranean Sea.

An American ship loaded with humanitarian aid, the Sagamore, set off for Gaza from Cyprus last week, and the aid was loaded onto a smaller vessel that had been waiting for the pier to be installed. The United Nations will receive the aid and oversee its distribution in Gaza, according to Central Command, which said no U.S. troops would set foot in the territory.

Over the next two days, the U.S. military and humanitarian groups will aim to load three to five trucks from the pier and send them into Gaza as a test of the process laid out by the Pentagon, said General Charles Q. Brown, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“It’ll probably take another 24 hours to make sure everything is set up,” he told reporters on Thursday aboard a flight to Brussels, where he was attending a NATO meeting. “We have our force protection that’s been put in place, we have contract truck drivers on the other side, and there’s fuel for those truck drivers as well.”

The Pentagon hopes the pier operation will bring in enough aid for around 90 trucks a day, a number that will increase to 150 trucks when the system reaches full operating capacity, officials say.

In a briefing on Thursday, an Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Nadav Shoshani, said supporting the temporary pier project was a “top priority.” He said the Israeli Navy and the 99th Division were supporting the effort by sea and by land, respectively.

Aid groups say the devastation in Gaza after seven months of Israeli bombardment, strict Israeli inspections and restrictions on crossing points are limiting the amount of aid that can enter Gaza. Israel has maintained that the restrictions are necessary to ensure that neither weapons nor supplies fall into the hands of Hamas.

The United Nations’ World Food Program said on Wednesday that it had not received any aid through the Kerem Shalom border crossing with Israel in southern Gaza since May 6, as Israeli troops began a military operation in the area near the city of Rafah. The agency said in a statement that access to its warehouse in Rafah had been cut off because of the fighting, and that its stock of food and fuel would run out “in a matter of days.”

“The threat of famine in Gaza never loomed larger,” the agency said, adding that Israel’s operations in Rafah had significantly set back efforts to alleviate the humanitarian crisis for the enclave’s 2.2 million people.

In a briefing on Wednesday, Dan Dieckhaus, a director for the U.S. Agency for International Development, stressed that the maritime aid corridor was meant to supplement deliveries through land crossings, not replace them.

The Pentagon has said that the pier could help deliver as many as two million meals a day.

An aid group, World Central Kitchen, built a makeshift jetty in mid-March to deliver aid by sea to Gaza for the first time in nearly two decades. But those efforts came to an abrupt stop in early April after seven of the group’s workers were killed in an Israeli strike.

Rawan Sheikh Ahmad and Helene Cooper contributed reporting.

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