US military completes installation of Gaza pier; aid to start flowing within days

American officials say troops will not set foot in Gaza; plan is for up to 150 truckloads a day to make precarious, multi-stage journey from ships to shore

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)
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)

The US military finished installing a floating pier for the Gaza Strip on Thursday, with officials poised to begin ferrying badly needed humanitarian aid into the enclave after seven months of intense fighting in the Israel-Hamas war.

The final, overnight construction sets up a complicated delivery process, more than two months after US President Joe Biden ordered it in order to help Palestinians facing starvation as food and other supplies have dwindled due to interruptions caused by the war.

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 Israel just southwest of Gaza City and then distributed by aid groups.

US troops will not set foot in Gaza, American officials insist, though they acknowledge the danger of operating near the war zone.

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 from Gaza during its construction and Hamas has threatened to target any foreign forces who “occupy” the Gaza Strip.

Soldiers assigned to the 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary) and sailors attached to the MV Roy P. Benavidez 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)

“Just a few hours ago, the pier was successfully affixed to the beach in Gaza,” said Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, deputy commander of US Central Command.

“I think we’re going to get about 500 tons in in the next couple of days. It’s a pretty substantial amount, and it’s spread out over multiple ships right now,” Cooper told reporters.

The “protection of US 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 who are working,” Cooper added. “We are confident in the ability of this security arrangement to protect those involved.”

The Israel Defense Forces and the Defense Ministry also issued a statement confirming the construction progress on Thursday.

“The connection of the floating pier in the Gaza Strip was successfully completed,” COGAT, the Israeli Defense Ministry body responsible for civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories, said in a statement. “In recent weeks, the IDF and the Ministry of Defense have made extensive preparations to receive the floating pier.”

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)

US troops anchored the pier at 7:40 a.m. local time Thursday, the military’s Central Command said in a statement, which stressed that none of its forces entered the Gaza Strip.

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

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

Israeli forces will be in charge of security on the shore, but there are also two US 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 war started on October 7 when the Palestinian terror group Hamas led a massive cross-border attack on Israel that killed some 1,200 people and saw 252 kidnapped into Gaza. Israel responded with a military offensive to destroy Hamas, topple its Gaza regime, and free the hostages of whom 128 remain in captivity, some believed no longer alive.

Aid agencies say they are running out of food in southern Gaza and fuel is dwindling, which will force hospitals to shut down critical operations and halt truck deliveries of aid. The United Nations and other agencies have warned for weeks that an Israel assault on Rafah, which is on the border with Egypt near the main aid entry points, would cripple humanitarian operations and cause a disastrous surge in civilian casualties.

A tank with an Israeli flag on it enters the Gazan side of the Rafah Border Crossing on May 7, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces via AP)

Aid supplies via the Rafah Crossing into Egypt have suffered a setback with Egyptian authorities refusing to coordinate with Israel on deliveries ever since the Israel Defense Forces last week captured the Gaza side of the gateway. Egypt insists that the Gaza side be operated by Palestinians. An Israeli delegation reportedly visited Cairo on Wednesday with the aim of patching up the dispute.

The first cargo ship, the MV Sagamore, loaded with 475 pallets of food left Cyprus last week to rendezvous with a US military ship, the Roy P. Benavidez, which is off the coast of Gaza. The pallets of aid on the Sagamore were moved onto the Benavidez. The Pentagon said moving the aid between ships was designed so it could flow quickly once the pier and the causeway were installed.

On Wednesday, the British Foreign Office said a British shipment of nearly 100 tons of aid left Cyprus bound for the floating pier.

A handout photo issued May 16, 2024 shows the coast of central Gaza, where a US-built floating pier is to be placed. (Israel Defense Forces)

The installation of the pier several miles (kilometers) off the coast and of the causeway, which is now anchored to the beach, was delayed for nearly two weeks because of bad weather and high seas. The sea conditions made it too dangerous for US and Israeli troops to secure the causeway to the shore and do other final assembly work, US officials said.

According to a defense official, the Sagamore’s initial shipment was estimated to provide enough to feed 11,000 people for one month. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to provide details not yet made public. The British shipment comprises 8,400 shelter coverage kits — temporary shelters made up of plastic sheeting.

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. But aid agencies say that isn’t enough to avert impending famine in Gaza and must be just one part of a broader Israeli effort to open land corridors.

Biden used his State of the Union address on March 7 to order the military to set up a temporary pier off the coast of Gaza, establishing a sea route to deliver food and other aid. Food shipments have been backed up at land crossings amid Israeli restrictions and intensifying fighting.

Trucks carrying humanitarian aid make their way along a street in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on March 10, 2024. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

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 US military.

There, the pallets are transferred onto trucks, driven onto smaller Army boats, and then shuttled several miles (kilometers) to the floating causeway, which has been anchored onto the beach by the Israeli military. 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 on shore, with the UN working with the US Agency for International Development to set up the logistics hub on the beach.

Sabrina Singh, the 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.

More than 1.4 million Palestinians — half of Gaza’s population — have been sheltering in Rafah, most after fleeing Israel’s offensives elsewhere.

Israel recently launched what it has described as a “pinpoint” operation to uproot the terror group Hamas from Rafah, which is considered its last remaining major stronghold. However, the prospect of a major offensive there faces strong international opposition, including from the United States.

Most Popular
read more: