UK’s first aid shipment leaves Cyprus headed for temporary Gaza pier

Hailing cargo of 8,400 shelter kits, Sunak says UK ‘leading international efforts with US and Cyprus to establish maritime aid corridor’

US soldiers assemble the Roll-On, Roll-Off Distribution Facility (RRDF), or floating pier, off the shore of Gaza in the Mediterranean Sea on April 26, 2024. (US Army via AP)
US soldiers assemble the Roll-On, Roll-Off Distribution Facility (RRDF), or floating pier, off the shore of Gaza in the Mediterranean Sea on April 26, 2024. (US Army via AP)

A British shipment of nearly 100 tons of aid has left Cyprus bound for the United States Army’s floating pier off Gaza, the British Foreign Office said in a statement on Wednesday.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said, “We are leading international efforts with the US and Cyprus to establish a maritime aid corridor. Today’s first shipment of British aid from Cyprus to the temporary pier off Gaza is an important moment in increasing this flow.”

British Foreign Minister David Cameron also said, “This pier will play a vital role in getting aid to those who need it in Gaza, but it must be accompanied by an increase in aid delivered through land routes. Israel’s commitments to increase access are welcome but we need to see more aid making it over the borders.”

The shipment is comprised of 8,400 shelter coverage kits — temporary shelters made up of plastic sheeting.

Britain said the pier would allow the delivery of an estimated 90 truckloads of international aid into Gaza each day, potentially rising to 150 truckloads a day once fully operational.

For now, the ships will sail from Cyprus to a floating platform several kilometers off the Gaza shore. They will then be unloaded, then repacked and loaded onto smaller ships that can carry between five to 15 truckloads of aid. Those ships will bring it to the floating causeway connected to the coast, where trucks will bring the aid to land.

The shipments will be received by the World Food Program and the United Nations.

A maritime pier being built by the US military off the coast of the Gaza Strip, in an image released on April 29, 2024. (CENTCOM)

Earlier Wednesday, Dan Dieckhaus, response director for USAID, said the pier is expected to be operational “in the coming days,” after being delayed by a week due to bad weather.

“The humanitarian situation in Gaza remains incredibly dire, humanitarian conditions are deteriorating, and insecurity is escalating, particularly in Rafah, and civilians are suffering, Dieckhous said. “The entire population of Gaza… is facing acute food insecurity, meaning they require food assistance. And the threat of famine is looming.”

He added that in northern Gaza, “More than half the population is facing catastrophic levels of food insecurity, and nearly 30% of the children there are severely malnourished.” In the south, he said, it’s nearly half the population.

Efforts are being further complicated “by what is happening in Rafah,” he said, noting that around 450,000 people have fled since May 6 when the IDF took control of the Rafah Border Crossing.

This “risks compounding a humanitarian catastrophe,” he said, adding that aid workers are facing “significant challenges” getting food in and accessing warehouses.

The US is “greatly concerned about further population displacement,” from Rafah, he said.

Construction work is seen on the coast of central Gaza, part of a US-led project to bring aid into the Strip, via a floating pier, in a handout image published April 27, 2024. (Defense Ministry Department of Engineering and Construction)

He did note, however, that there has been “some progress” on the amount of aid going into Gaza, but “more must be done now, especially in light of recent setbacks.”

He said the US is pressing Israel to do more to ensure the safety of humanitarian workers and to open additional land crossings into Gaza and stressed that humanitarian organizations receiving the food will do so in an “independent, neutral, and impartial manner.”

Vice Admiral Bradley Cooper, deputy commander of the US Central Command, stressed repeatedly that the US military’s only role is “to provide our unique logistics ability” to bring in more aid.

It “has no other purpose,” Cooper said, adding that the US is now “focused on flooding the zone with humanitarian assistance.”

In response to a question from The Times of Israel, Cooper would not say whether the US would respond to an attack on US troops by Hamas. “Any attack on those working on the mission is an attack on aid for the people of Gaza,” he said.

He added that the US does not believe the pier is exposed to any additional risk beyond what is inherent in a war zone, adding that there are two coordination cells — one in Cyprus and one in Israel.

Jerusalem “has been highly supportive of this effort,” Cooper said.

The Palestinian Authority had also been looped into discussions with the US on the plan, Dieckhaus said. “Our understanding is that there is general support.”

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