Washington aims to complete Gaza pier to enable maritime aid by May 1, says official

NSC chief of staff says US ‘doing everything they can to accelerate the deployment of this capability’ as humanitarian crisis in war-torn territory deepens

Illustrative: The second vessel, left, with food aid from aid group World Central Kitchen prepares to depart for Gaza, at Larnaca port, Cyprus, March 16, 2024. (AP/Petros Karadjias)
Illustrative: The second vessel, left, with food aid from aid group World Central Kitchen prepares to depart for Gaza, at Larnaca port, Cyprus, March 16, 2024. (AP/Petros Karadjias)

LARNACA, Cyprus – The United States is working hard to prepare a landing jetty that would facilitate aid to Gaza by sea, a senior US official said on Thursday, adding it could be ready before May 1.

Five months of war, sparked by Hamas’s October 7 slaughter of 1,200 people in southern Israel, have created critical food and aid shortages among Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians as the United Nations has warned of a looming famine in the territory.

A bottleneck in land aid to Gaza has been supplemented by airdrops and, recently, aid from Cyprus via a recently opened maritime corridor. With no infrastructure to speak of, a charity recently built a makeshift jetty from rubble to handle incoming aid while the United States plans a pier to get aid to shore.

“The US military is doing everything they can to accelerate the deployment of this capability, to make it operational prior to the May 1 target date that they’ve set,” said Curtis Ried, Chief of Staff of the National Security Council.

“They are working very hard to advance that and hopefully we can see it operational a bit earlier than that,” he told journalists on the sidelines of a conference in Cyprus.

Asked about how the operation would work within Gaza, Ried said there was no plan for American personnel to go ashore. Israel, he said, would play an important role in securing a broad area, while the US was talking to “a number of countries” about potentially serving as a security partner within the perimeter compound secured by the Israelis.

US National Security Council Chief of Staff Curtis Ried delivers a message of gratitude on behalf of US President Joe Biden to the AfghanEvac volunteer network, in a video dated December 28, 2023. (Screen capture: Youtube/AfghanEvac, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

From there on, he said, aid would likely be distributed by a UN agency, and that UNRWA, the UN aid agency for Palestinian refugees would, for the foreseeable future, continue to be used.

The US paused its funding to UNRWA in January after Israel accused over a dozen of the agency’s 13,000 employees in Gaza of participating in the October 7 attacks and hundreds more of ties to terror, but insists the aid group’s humanitarian outreach is indispensable.

Cyprus, which hosted a gathering of officials from 36 countries and aid agencies on Thursday, did not list UNRWA as a participant in a notification issued Wednesday, but included a host of other UN agencies.

The US had been clear that while it had serious concerns over the allegations Israel raised regarding UNRWA staff, it considered its distribution network essential for aid getting though to Palestinians, Ried said.

The United Nations Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator for Gaza, Sigrid Kaag, left, talks during a meeting with Cyprus’ foreign minister Constantinos Kombos, right, at the foreign ministry house in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, on March 20, 2024 (AP/Petros Karadjias)

“We must continue to make use of UNRWA’s distribution network in Gaza because there isn’t a way to replace it quickly, it might be replaced over time, but currently it’s the best method that we have to deliver assistance,” said the NSC Chief of Staff.

Under an agreement hammered out with Israel, cargo can undergo security inspections in Cyprus by a team including Israel, eliminating the need for screening at its final offloading point to remove potential hold-ups in aid deliveries.

One vessel left Cyprus last week and distributed aid in Gaza, while another two are expected to depart in coming days, subject to weather conditions.

“We are discussing how we can max up operational capacity both in terms of departure and means of transport and also in relation to the reception and distribution methodology,” said Constantinos Kombos, Cyprus’s foreign minister.

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