IDF brigade to set up and secure pier with US soldiers

US troops begin constructing Gaza pier, aiming to have it operational by early May

Port to start handling 90 aid trucks per day, may reach 150 when fully operational; mortar attack during UN visit to construction site highlights security concerns

US Army soldiers load an AC unit aboard the USAV Monterey at the pier of the Joint Base Langley-Eustis during a media preview of the 7th Transportation Brigade deployment in Hampton, Virginia, on March 12, 2024. (Roberto Schmidt / AFP)
US Army soldiers load an AC unit aboard the USAV Monterey at the pier of the Joint Base Langley-Eustis during a media preview of the 7th Transportation Brigade deployment in Hampton, Virginia, on March 12, 2024. (Roberto Schmidt / AFP)

US troops have begun constructing a maritime pier off the coast of Gaza with the aim of speeding up the flow of humanitarian aid into the enclave when it becomes operational in May, the Pentagon said on Thursday.

US President Joe Biden announced the construction of the pier in March as aid officials implored Israel to ease access for relief supplies into Gaza’s overland routes. Whether the pier will ultimately succeed in boosting humanitarian aid is unclear, as international officials warn of a risk of famine in northern Gaza.

The port sits just southwest of Gaza City, a little north of a road bisecting Gaza that the Israeli military built during the fighting. The area was the territory’s most populous region before the Israeli ground offensive pushed over 1 million people south toward the town of Rafah on the Egyptian border.

Israel’s six-month-long military campaign against Hamas, which began after the terror group’s October 7 massacre in southern communities, has devastated the Gaza Strip and plunged its 2.3 million people into a humanitarian crisis.

A senior Biden administration official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity, said humanitarian aid coming off the pier will need to pass through Israeli checkpoints on land. That is despite the aid having already been inspected by Israel in Cyprus prior to being shipped to Gaza. Israel wants to prevent any aid from getting to Hamas terrorists and boosting their war effort.

The prospect of checkpoints raised questions about possible delays even after aid reaches shore. The United Nations has long complained of obstacles to getting aid in and distributing it throughout Gaza.

This satellite picture taken by Planet Labs PBC shows the construction of a new aid port near Gaza City, Gaza Strip, on Wednesday, April 24, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

“I can confirm that US military vessels, including the USNS Benavidez, have begun to construct the initial stages of the temporary pier and causeway at sea,” Pentagon spokesperson Major General Patrick Ryder told reporters.

This is how the sea route will work:

  • Pallets of aid will be inspected and loaded onto mainly commercial ships in Cyprus, which then will sail about 200 miles to the large floating platform being built by the US military.
  • The pallets will be transferred onto trucks, driven onto smaller army vessels, and then taken several miles to the causeway, which will be roughly 1,800 feet (550 meters) long and anchored to the shoreline by the Israeli military.
  • The trucks will then go down the causeway to a secure drop-off area, where pallets will be distributed to aid agencies. That mission could last several months, a US military official told the Associated Press.

A UN official said the port will likely have three zones — one controlled by the Israelis where aid from the pier is dropped off, another where the aid will be transferred, and a third where Palestinian drivers contracted by the UN will wait to pick up the aid before bringing it to distribution points.

The pier will initially handle 90 trucks a day, but that number could increase to 150 trucks daily when it is fully operational. The United Nations said this week that the daily average number of trucks entering Gaza during April was 200 and that there had been a peak on Monday of 316.

The northern Gaza Strip is still heading toward a famine, the deputy UN food chief said on Thursday, appealing for a greater volume of aid and for Israel to allow direct access from its southern Ashdod port to the Erez crossing.

Concerns about the risk of American troops getting caught up in the Israel-Hamas war were underscored on Thursday as news emerged of a mortar attack near the area where the pier will eventually touch the ground. No US forces were present, however, and Biden has ordered US forces to not set foot on the Gaza shore.

UN officials were touring the site with Israeli troops at the time of the attack, the Israel Defense Forces said in response to a query on the incident. The IDF said the UN officials were rushed to a shelter by troops amid the attack.

UN officials also confirmed the mortar attack to AP, saying there were no injuries.

“The terrorist organizations continue to systematically harm humanitarian efforts while risking the lives of UN workers, while Israel allows the supply of aid to the residents of the Gaza Strip,” the IDF added.

No group claimed responsibility for the mortar fire, but a Hamas official told AP Wednesday that the terror group will resist any foreign military presence involved with the port project.

In a statement, the IDF said a military brigade, including thousands of soldiers, along with Israeli Navy ships and the Air Force, would work to protect US troops who are setting up the pier.

US Army soldiers take photographs of the USAV Monterrey (not pictured) as it pulls away from the pier during a media preview of the 7th Transportation Brigade deployment in Hampton, Virginia, on March 12, 2024.(Roberto Schmidt/AFP)

The IDF said in a statement Thursday that it had approved “collaborative efforts” for the Joint Logistics Over The Shore project, known as JLOTS.

“The IDF will operate to provide security and logistics support for the JLOTS initiative, which includes the establishment of a temporary floating pier to deliver humanitarian aid from the sea into Gaza,” the military said.

“The IDF’s involvement in the JLOTS initiative is one of many humanitarian aid efforts, further demonstrating the IDF’s commitment to working with the international community to ensure the continuous entry of humanitarian aid to the civilian population in the Gaza Strip,” it added.


The US Defense Department’s Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore (JLOTS) capability, as planned for Gaza. The department said on March 8, 2024, that components of the JLOTS include a floating pier, an approximately 1,800-foot-long causeway that will be attached to the shore, and a group of logistic support vessels and barges that will transport the aid from the pier to the causeway. (US Department of Defense)

While the port is expected to come into use by May, a senior US military official acknowledged that the final installation of the US-built causeway onto the beach at the port will be governed by the security situation, which is assessed daily.

Asked about the recent mortar attack, the military official said the US assessed that it had nothing to do with the humanitarian mission, adding that security around the port will be “far more robust” when the deliveries start.

In addition, the US has rehearsed offensive and defensive measures to ensure US troops working at the pier and those on the floating platform several miles offshore are all protected.

While satellite photos showed major port construction along the shore near Gaza City, aid groups made it clear that they have broad concerns about their safety and reservations about how Israeli forces will handle security.

Aid groups were shaken after an Israeli strike earlier this month killed seven World Central Kitchen volunteers during a mission coordinated with the IDF. The military has dismissed two officers and formally reprimanded senior commanders over the bombing, which it called a tragic mistake.

Sonali Korde, an official with the US Agency for International Development, said key agreements for security and handling the aid deliveries are still being negotiated. Those include how Israeli forces will operate in Gaza to ensure that aid workers are not harmed.

“We need to see steps implemented. And the humanitarian community and IDF continue to talk and engage and iterate and improve the system so that everyone feels safe and secure in this very difficult operating environment,” Korde said.

This satellite picture taken by Planet Labs PBC show the construction of a new aid port near Gaza City, Gaza Strip, on April 18, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

The UN’s World Food Program has agreed to lead the aid delivery effort. Carl Skau, WFP’s deputy executive director, speaking Thursday at the UN, said it’s “necessary for us to be able to operate, reach communities, have access to needs, and to do so in a safe and secure way.” He also said the port mission must be just one part of a broader Israeli effort to improve sustainable land-based deliveries of aid to avert a famine.

A UN official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss behind-the-scenes deliberations, said several sticking points remain around how the Israelis would handle the port’s security. The military is reportedly seeking to install remote-controlled gun positions, which the UN opposes, said the official, although it was not clear what weapons were being described.

Amid difficulties in bringing aid into Gaza, countries have even tried airdropping aid — a tactic that aid groups say is a last-ditch resort because it can’t deliver aid in large quantities and also has led to deaths.

“The more time we spend talking about JLOTS,” said Bob Kitchen, vice president for emergencies with the International Rescue Committee, “the more we talk about airdrops — all of this is massively expensive, comparatively low-scale and is a side-show. It’s a distraction.”

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