Trucks carrying 300 pallets of humanitarian aid roll into Gaza across new US pier

Operation expected to scale up to 150 trucks per day; UN to distribute supplies in Strip; aid groups reiterate warning that maritime project isn’t a substitute for land deliveries

Trucks loaded with humanitarian aid from the United Arab Emirates and the United States Agency for International Development cross the Trident Pier before entering the beach in Gaza, May 17, 2024. (Staff Sgt. Malcolm Cohens-Ashley/US Army Central via AP)
Trucks loaded with humanitarian aid from the United Arab Emirates and the United States Agency for International Development cross the Trident Pier before entering the beach in Gaza, May 17, 2024. (Staff Sgt. Malcolm Cohens-Ashley/US Army Central via AP)

Trucks carrying badly needed aid to the Gaza Strip rolled across a newly built US pier and into the Palestinian enclave for the first time Friday, after seven months of intense fighting in the Israel-Hamas war.

The shipment is the first in an operation that American military officials anticipate could scale up to 150 truckloads a day, all while Israel presses in on the southern city of Rafah in its campaign against Hamas. At the White House, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said “more than 300 pallets” of aid were in the initial delivery and handed over to the United Nations, which was preparing it for distribution.

The Israel Defense Forces and the Defense Ministry also issued a statement confirming that over 300 pallets of supplies had been transferred via the pier.

Kirby said the US has gotten indications that “some of that aid was already moving into Gaza.”

But the US, the UN and aid groups warn that the floating pier project is not a substitute for land deliveries that could bring in all the food, water and fuel needed in Gaza. Before the war, more than 500 truckloads entered the Palestinian territory on an average day.

The operation’s success also remains tenuous because of the risk of terrorist attacks, logistical hurdles and a growing shortage of fuel for the aid trucks due to Israeli restrictions since Hamas’s October 7 massacre, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 252 hostages, mostly civilians, many amid acts of brutality and sexual assault.

The image provided by US Central Command shows US Army soldiers assigned to the 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary), US Navy sailors assigned to Amphibious Construction Battalion 1, and Israel Defense Forces placing the Trident Pier on the coast of Gaza Strip, May 16, 2024. (US Central Command via AP)

The Israeli military campaign since has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials, though figures issued by the Hamas-run health ministry cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires.

An estimated 15,000 terror operatives have been killed in Gaza amid the war, according to Israeli officials. The IDF also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7 and that 280 soldiers have been killed during the ground offensive against Hamas and amid operations along the Gaza border.

Aid agencies say they are running out of food in southern Gaza, while the UN World Food Program says famine has already taken hold in Gaza’s north.

Troops finished installing the floating pier on Thursday, and the US military’s Central Command said the first aid crossed into Gaza at 9 a.m. Friday. It said no American troops went ashore in the operation.

The Pentagon said no backups were expected in the distribution process. The US plan is for the United Nations, through the World Food Program, to take charge of the aid once it leaves the pier. This will involve coordinating the arrival of empty trucks and their registration, overseeing the transfer of goods coming through the floating dock to the trucks and their dispatch to warehouses across Gaza, and, finally, handing over the supplies to aid groups for delivery.

Trucks loaded with humanitarian aid from the United Arab Emirates and the United States Agency for International Development cross the Trident Pier before entering the beach in Gaza, May 17, 2024. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Kelby Sanders/US Navy via AP)

The UK said some of its aid for Gaza was in the first shipment that went ashore, including the first of 8,400 kits to provide temporary shelters made of plastic sheeting. And it said more aid, including 2,000 additional shelter kits, 900 tents, five forklift trucks and 9,200 hygiene kits, will follow in the coming weeks.

“This is the culmination of a Herculean joint international effort,” said British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. “We know the maritime route is not the only answer. We need to see more land routes open, including via the Rafah crossing, to ensure much more aid gets safely to civilians in desperate need of help.”

Aid distribution had not yet begun as of Friday afternoon, said a UN official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. The official said the process of unloading and reloading cargo was still ongoing.

The UN humanitarian aid coordinating agency said the start of the operation was welcome but not a replacement for deliveries by land.

“I think everyone in the operation has said it: Any and all aid into Gaza is welcome by any route,” Jens Laerke, spokesman of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told journalists in Geneva on Friday. Getting aid to people in Gaza “cannot and should not depend on a floating dock far from where needs are most acute.”

Anastasia Moran, an associate director of the International Rescue Committee, argued that the pier is in fact diverting attention from the surging humanitarian crisis.

Israeli troops are seen on the coast of central Gaza, where a US-built floating pier is to be placed, in a handout photo issued May 16, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Over the past couple of months, “the maritime route has been taking time and energy and resources at a time when aid has not been scaled up,” she said. “And now that the maritime route is up and running, the land crossings have been effectively shut down.”

During the nine-day period between May 6, when Israel began its Rafah offensive, and May 15, a total of 154 trucks carrying food and 156 carrying flour have entered Gaza through three land crossings, UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq said Friday. Haq also warned this week that almost no fuel is getting through.

Israel fears Hamas will use fuel in the war, but it asserts it places no limits on the entry of humanitarian aid and blames the UN for delays in distributing goods entering Gaza. Israel has opened a pair of crossings to deliver aid into the territory’s hard-hit north in recent weeks.

It has said that a series of Hamas attacks on the main crossing, Kerem Shalom, have disrupted the flow of goods. The UN says fighting, Israeli fire and chaotic security conditions have hindered delivery. There have also been violent protests by Israelis that disrupted aid shipments.

Israel recently seized the Palestinian side of the Rafah Border Crossing in its push against Hamas around that city on the Egyptian border, raising fears about civilians’ safety while also cutting off the main entry for aid into the Gaza Strip.

IDF troops on the Gazan side of the Rafah border crossing on May 7, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

US President Joe Biden ordered the pier project, expected to cost $320 million. The boatloads of aid will be deposited at a port facility built by the Israelis just southwest of Gaza City. The US has closely coordinated with Israel on how to protect the ships and personnel working on the beach.

Concern about the safety of aid workers was highlighted last month when an Israeli strike killed seven relief workers from World Central Kitchen whose trip had been coordinated with Israeli officials. The group had also brought aid in by sea.

Pentagon officials have made it clear that security conditions will be monitored closely and could prompt a shutdown of the maritime route, even if 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.

Israeli forces are in charge of security on shore, but there are also two US Navy warships nearby that can protect US troops and others.

The aid for the sea route is collected and inspected in Cyprus, then loaded onto ships and taken about 200 miles (320 kilometers) to the large floating pier off the Gaza coast. There, the pallets are transferred onto the trucks that then drive onto the Army boats, which will shuttle the trucks from the pier to a floating causeway anchored to the beach. Once the trucks drop off the aid, they return to the boats.

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