Middle East Crisis: U.S. to Build Pier to Allow Aid Into Gaza by Sea

President Biden will announce in his State of the Union address on Thursday that he is ordering the US military to build a floating pier off the coast of Gaza, in what the White House called an “emergency mission” that could deliver hundreds of truckloads of additional aid. by sea to Gazans on the brink of starvation.

Based on the description provided by White House and military officials, the temporary aid delivery port would be built from U.S. ships and then moved close to the coast, attached to some kind of temporary causeway.

According to officials, the project could last more than 30 to 60 days and would involve hundreds or thousands of American troops on ships just off the coast, in line with Mr. Biden’s mandate that there be no American soldiers on the ground in Gaza if it conflict breaks out. rages. Briefing reporters said the port would be built in cooperation with other countries in the region.

U.S. officials said they were “working closely” with the Israelis in developing the seaport initiative, but they did not specify whether Israel would provide direct assistance or support for its construction or operation.

A US official said Israel worked for months with the US and other countries to develop an inspection process at a port in Cyprus from which humanitarian aid could be examined and then delivered – a key requirement for the new US port in Gaza .

The Israeli government did not immediately confirm that it had agreed to allow maritime aid to Gaza, but Israeli approval would be needed because the country controls the waters around Gaza and security within most of the enclave.

Shani Sasson, spokeswoman for COGAT, the Israeli agency that regulates aid to Palestinians in Gaza, did not respond to a request for comment.

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic negotiations, said that under the latest plan, aid donated by the United Arab Emirates would be sent to Cyprus, where it would eventually be inspected and then shipped by ship to the coast of Cyprus would be transported. Gaza.

Israel would be involved in the inspection process, and World Central Kitchen, chef José Andrés’ organization, would bring the aid ashore in smaller boats, the official said. World Central Kitchen already has volunteers on the ground in Gaza.

Two diplomats briefed on the plans said the latest plans would see the port built on Gaza’s coastline, just north of the Wadi Gaza border crossing, where Israeli forces have built a key checkpoint.

The Army Corps of Engineers has long experience in the rapid construction of floating docks for U.S. military operations. One of the key military units involved in the construction will be the Army’s 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary), based out of Joint Base Eustis-Langley, Virginia, near Norfolk, according to U.S. Department of Defense officials.

The ships, large, bulky vessels, will need armed escorts, especially if they come within range of the Gaza coast, the officials said. So the Department of Defense is working to ensure their protection while they build the pier. Assuring them that armed protection could last from weeks to a few months, the White House did not set a firm timeline for the construction effort.

If the new facility opens as planned, it could be another way to get truckloads of aid into the region. But officials did not detail how aid delivered by sea would be moved from the coast further into Gaza, where humanitarian groups say hundreds of thousands of people are facing famine. One option is to keep the platform at sea and transfer the goods with smaller boats; another would be to build a temporary causeway allowing trucks to pick up the goods directly.

Still, simply delivering aid by sea does not immediately solve the central problem that trucks have been unable to deliver their goods amid heavy Israeli shelling and ground fighting, which remains fierce in the South. It would also not provide a solution to the chaos associated with deliveries.

A convoy of aid trucks was overrun last week by Gazans desperate for food and water, leading to more than 100 deaths when Israeli soldiers opened fire and many people were trampled in the chaos.

The announcement came just hours before Mr Biden was due to deliver the State of the Union address, which is expected to be attended by relatives of some of the hostages held by Hamas since the October 7 terrorist attack in Israel. The new project gives Mr. Biden a concrete project to point to at a time when he is facing sharp criticism for failing to curb Israel’s attacks and for moving too slowly to address the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Gaza .

When completed, the new seaport would provide an additional route for humanitarian aid, which is currently limited to two land crossings to the southern part of Gaza. Officials said Thursday that a third border crossing, into the northern part of Gaza, could open within a week for limited deliveries.

Mr Biden also recently ordered the US military to air-drop aid into Gaza. American pilots dropped their fourth shipment in the area on Thursday.

Jamie McGoldrick, the top U.N. aid official in Jerusalem, said a maritime corridor could help Gaza’s hunger crisis but would not be a substitute for opening more land routes for trucks.

“We support all means of getting supplies into Gaza – maritime, air drops – but the priority is road convoys,” Mr McGoldrick said, adding that it would take time to set up the infrastructure for the sea passage.

Erik Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington. Adam Sella And Aaron Bokserman contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

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