UN food organization halts aid to Gaza via US pier due to security concerns

Two of the aid group’s warehouses were struck by rockets on Saturday, leading it to pause operations for a security review

A truck of flour supplied by the United Nations' World Food Program is seen at Ashdod Port, before entering the Gaza Strip on April 17, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
A truck of flour supplied by the United Nations' World Food Program is seen at Ashdod Port, before entering the Gaza Strip on April 17, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

WASHINGTON — The director of the UN World Food Program said Sunday the program has “paused” its distribution of humanitarian aid from an American-built pier off Gaza, saying she was “concerned about the safety of our people” after what had been one of the deadliest days of the war there.

Cindy McCain said two of WFP’s warehouses in Gaza had been “rocketed” and a staffer injured on Saturday, which was also when an Israeli military operation freed four hostages but, according to unverified Hamas claims, left 274 Palestinians dead.

The IDF acknowledged that it killed Palestinian civilians amid the rescue operation, but it placed the blame on Hamas for holding hostages and fighting in a dense civilian environment. IDF Spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said Saturday: “We know about under 100 [Palestinian] casualties. I don’t know how many of them are terrorists.”

Sunday’s UN announcement of the pause was the latest setback for the US sea route, set up to try to bring more aid to Gaza’s starving people.

The US Agency for International Development described the pause as a step to allow for a security review by the humanitarian community in Gaza. USAID works with the World Food Program and their humanitarian partners in Gaza to distribute food and other aid coming from the US-operated pier.

Completed in mid-May, the US pier was operational for only about a week before being knocked offline by storm damage for two weeks. After repairs, it returned to operation again Saturday, bringing in 1.1 million pounds (492 metric tons) of food and other aid, before McCain said her agency was pausing its humanitarian work there.

The UN agency gave no further details, including how long the pause would last. WFP spokespeople did not respond to requests for further details.

Palestinians carry boxes of humanitarian aid after rushing the trucks transporting the international aid from the US-built Trident Pier near Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on May 18, 2024. (AFP)

Asked about the pier operation during an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation” McCain said: “Right now we’re paused.”

“I’m concerned about the safety of our people after the incident yesterday,” McCain said, without elaboration. “Two of our warehouses, the warehouse complex were rocketed yesterday.”

“We’ve stepped back for the moment,” she said, and want “to make sure that we’re on safe terms and on safe ground before we restart. But the rest of the country is operational. We’re doing … everything we can in the north and the south.”

USAID said in a statement to The Associated Press that it was working with other US government officials and with humanitarian groups in Gaza “to ensure that aid can safely and effectively resume movement following completion of the security review that the humanitarian community is currently undertaking.”

President Joe Biden in March announced in his State of the Union address that he had directed the US military to set up the temporary pier. The US project was meant to bring in a limited amount of aid into Gaza, where Israeli restrictions on land crossings, and fighting, as well as Hamas commandeering aid, have brought more than 1 million of Gaza’s 2.3 million people near the point of famine.

Saturday’s return to operation for the US pier project came the same day that Israel mounted a heavy air and ground assault that rescued four hostages, who had been taken by Hamas during the October 7 attack that launched the war in Gaza.

The image provided by US Central Command shows American and Israeli forces placing the Trident Pier on the coast of Gaza Strip on May 16, 2024. (US Central Command via AP)

Pushing back against social media claims after the Israeli military operation, US Central Command said in a tweet Saturday that neither the pier nor any of its equipment, personnel or other assets were used in the Israeli operation. It noted that Israel used an area south of the pier “to safely return hostages.”

A core principle of humanitarian groups holds that their work must be independent of the mission of combatants in a conflict zone, so as to keep aid operations and aid workers from becoming targets.

USAID said in a separate statement Saturday that no humanitarian workers were involved in the Israeli operation.

Speaking of the “rocketing” of the WFP warehouses, McCain said Sunday that one staffer was injured but “everybody else is fine.”

“That’s why a ceasefire is necessary. That’s why we need to stop this,” so that aid from her program and other organizations can flow into Gaza “at scale.”

Most Popular
read more: