U.S. Military Says Gaza Pier Project Is Complete, Aid to Soon Flow

Soldiers assigned to the 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary) and sailors attached to the MV Roy P. Benavidez assemble a floating pier off the shore of Gaza, April 26. (U.S. Army via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. military finished installing a floating pier for the Gaza Strip on Thursday, with officials poised to begin ferrying humanitarian aid into the Strip.

The final, overnight construction sets up a complicated delivery process more than two months after President Joe Biden ordered it to help Palestinians.

Fraught with logistical, weather, and security challenges, the maritime route is designed to bolster the amount of aid getting into the Gaza Strip, but it is not considered a substitute for far cheaper land-based deliveries that aid agencies say are much more sustainable. 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.

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 U.S. 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,” said Navy Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, a deputy commander at the U.S. military’s Central Command. “We are confident in the ability of this security arrangement to protect those involved.”

U.S. troops anchored the pier at 7:40 a.m. local time Thursday, the military’s Central Command said, stressing that none of its forces entered the Gaza Strip and would not during the pier’s operations.

“Trucks carrying humanitarian assistance are expected to begin moving ashore in the coming days,” the command said. “The United Nations will receive the aid and coordinate its distribution into Gaza.”

It wasn’t immediately clear which U.N. agency would be involved.

Israeli forces will be in charge of security on the shore, but there are also two U.S. 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 offshore and allies on the beach.

The first cargo ship, loaded with 475 pallets of food, left Cyprus last week to rendezvous with a U.S. 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 miles off the coast and of the causeway, which is now anchored to the beach, was delayed for nearly two weeks because of bad weather. The sea conditions made it too dangerous for U.S. and Israeli troops to secure the causeway to the shore, U.S. officials said.

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.

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 200 miles (320 kilometers) to the large floating pier built by the U.S. military off the Gaza coast.

There, the pallets are transferred onto trucks, driven onto smaller Army boats, and then shuttled several miles to the floating causeway, which has been anchored onto the beach by the IDF. 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 onshore, with the U.N. working with the U.S. Agency for International Development to set up the logistics hub on the beach.

Sabrina Singh, a Pentagon spokeswoman, told reporters that the project will cost at least $320 million, including the transportation 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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