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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

US to build pier to allow aid into Gaza by sea



Jamie McGoldrick, the top U.N. relief official in Jerusalem, said a maritime corridor could help the hunger crisis in Gaza but would not be a replacement for opening more overland routes for trucks. (X.com)

By David E. Sanger and Michael D. Shear


President Joe Biden will announce in his State of the Union on Thursday that he is ordering the U.S. military to build a floating pier off the Gaza Strip, in what the White House called an “emergency mission” that would allow hundreds of truckloads of additional aid to be delivered by sea to Palestinians who are on the brink of starvation.


Based on the description provided by White House and military officials, the temporary port for aid delivery would be built from U.S. ships and then moved close to shore, attached to some kind of temporary causeway.


The project could take more than 30 to 60 days, according to defense officials, and would involve hundreds or thousands of U.S. troops on ships just off shore, in keeping with Biden’s mandate that no American soldiers be on the ground inside Gaza as the conflict rages. Briefing reporters, administration officials said that the port would be constructed in cooperation with other countries in the region.


American officials said that they “worked closely” with Israelis as they developed the seaport initiative, but they did not specify whether Israel would provide direct assistance or support for its construction or operation.


One official said that Israel had worked for months with the U.S. and other nations to develop an inspection process at a port in Cyprus from which humanitarian aid could be examined and then delivered — a key requirement for the new U.S. port in Gaza.


Shani Sasson, a spokesperson for COGAT, the Israeli agency which regulates aid to Palestinians in Gaza, did not respond to a request for comment.


The Army Corps of Engineers has experience in the rapid construction of floating docks to accommodate U.S. military operations. One of the main military units involved in the construction will be the Army’s 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary), out of Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, near Norfolk, according to U.S. Defense Department officials.


The ships, which are large, lumbering vessels, will need armed escorts, particularly as they get within range of the Gaza coast, the officials said, so the Defense Department is working through how to ensure their protection as they build the pier. Assuring them that armed protection could take weeks to a few months, and the White House put no firm timeline on the construction effort.


The new facility, if opened as scheduled, could provide another way to get truckloads of aid into the region. But officials did not go into detail about how aid delivered by sea would be transferred from the coast farther into Gaza, where humanitarian groups say hundreds of thousands of people are facing a famine. One option is to keep the platform at sea and transfer the goods by smaller boats; another would be to build a temporary causeway that would enable trucks to pick up the goods directly.


Yet simply delivering aid by sea does not directly solve the central problem: that the trucks have been unable to deliver their goods amid intense Israeli shelling and ground fighting, which remains fierce in the South. Nor would it address the chaos that has accompanied the deliveries.


A convoy of aid trucks last week was overrun by Palestinians desperate for food and water, leading to more than 100 deaths when Israeli soldiers opened fire and many people were trampled in the chaos.


The announcement came just hours before Biden was scheduled to deliver the State of the Union address, which family members of some of the hostages being held by Hamas since the Oct. 7 terrorist attack in Israel are expected to attend. The new project gives Biden a concrete project to point to at a time when he is under sharp criticism for not reining in Israel’s attacks and moving too slowly to address the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Gaza.


The new seaport, when completed, would be an additional route for humanitarian aid, which is currently limited to two land crossings into the southern part of Gaza. Officials said Thursday that a third land crossing, into the northern part of Gaza, could open to limited deliveries within a week.


Biden also recently ordered the U.S. military to drop aid into Gaza by air. American pilots dropped their fourth load into the territory Thursday.


Jamie McGoldrick, the top U.N. relief official in Jerusalem, said a maritime corridor could help the hunger crisis in Gaza but would not be a replacement for opening more overland routes for trucks.


“We support all means of getting supplies into Gaza — maritime, airdrops — but the priority is road convoys,” said McGoldrick, adding that it would take time to set up the infrastructure for the sea passage.

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