US to set up temporary port on Gaza coast for aid delivery

  • By George Wright and Tom Bateman
  • BBC News in London and Washington DC

Image source, Getty Images

The US military will build a port in Gaza to bring more humanitarian aid to the area by sea, President Joe Biden has announced.

The temporary port will increase the amount of humanitarian aid to the Palestinians by “hundreds of additional truckloads” per day, officials say.

Biden added that no US troops would land in Gaza. Britain said it would work with the US to establish a maritime corridor.

The UN warns that a quarter of the population is on the brink of famine.

He said the port, which will be built by the U.S. military, will include a temporary pier to transport supplies from ships at sea to shore.

It is not clear who will build the causeway or secure onshore aid, meaning crucial questions about whether the operation can succeed remain unanswered.

The port will take “several weeks” to set up, officials say, and will be able to accommodate large ships carrying food, water, medicine and temporary shelter. The first shipments will arrive via Cyprus, where Israeli security inspections will take place.

“A temporary pier will allow for a dramatic increase in the amount of humanitarian aid entering Gaza every day,” President Biden said.

He added that Israel must “do its part” by allowing more aid into the territory and “ensuring that humanitarian workers are not caught in the crossfire.”

“Humanitarian aid should not be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip.”

On Friday, British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said posted on X: “Together with the US, Britain and partners have announced that we will open a maritime corridor to deliver aid directly to Gaza.”

The Israeli army launched an air and ground campaign in the area following Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7, killing around 1,200 people and taking 253 others hostage.

More than 30,800 people have been killed in Gaza since then, the territory’s Hamas-led health ministry says.

Gaza has no deep-water port, so the US has spent weeks looking for ways to urgently bring in shiploads of aid, while the government has publicly increased its pressure and increasingly publicly expressed impatience with Israel over the desperate situation on the ground. .

U.S. officials told the BBC’s U.S. partner CBS that there are plans to have the pier installed by an Army unit called the 7th Transportation Brigade, based in Fort Story, Virginia.

The brigade is designed for rapid deployment, but the military ships have not yet left the U.S., officials said.

Vice Admiral Kevin Donegan, former commander of the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet – the highest-ranking US naval commander in the Middle East – told BBC Radio 4’s World Tonight program that the port plan was “absolutely doable”.

However, he said delivering aid by land is still the most effective way to get as many goods as possible.

Palestinians say most were shot by Israeli forces. The Israeli army, which oversaw the private aid deliveries, said most were killed in a stampede.

Aid trucks have entered southern Gaza through the Egyptian-controlled Rafah crossing and the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom. But the north, which was the focus of the first phase of Israel’s ground offensive, has been largely cut off from aid in recent months.

On February 20, the UN World Food Program (WFP) said it was suspending food deliveries to northern Gaza because first aid convoys had endured “complete chaos and violence in three weeks due to the breakdown of civil order”, including violent looting.

The US and other countries have resorted to dropping aid by air, but humanitarian groups say this method is a last resort and cannot meet the rising need.

An independent UN expert accused Israel on Thursday of mounting “a famine campaign against the Palestinian people in Gaza.”

“The images of famine in Gaza are unbearable and you are doing nothing,” Michael Fakhri, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, said in a speech to the UN Human Rights Council.

Yeela Cytrin, legal adviser at Israel’s mission to the UN, said: “Israel completely rejects accusations that it is using famine as a tool of war,” before walking out in protest.

During his State of the Union address, President Biden also said he was “working nonstop” to reach an immediate six-week ceasefire — a deal he said would “bring the hostages home and would alleviate an unbearable humanitarian crisis, and build towards something more lasting”.

It was hoped that a 40-day truce could be reached next week before the start of the Islamic month of Ramadan.

But Egyptian and Qatari mediators are struggling to strike a deal where Hamas would free Israeli hostages in exchange for Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

Video Caption,

Watch: American cargo plane drops humanitarian aid on Gaza

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