US Military Starts Pier Construction off Gaza

April 25, 2024

Strategic Sealift Officer Lt. David Gill runs radio tests in the bridge of Military Sealift Command large, medium-speed roll-on/roll-off (LMSR) vessel USNS Benavidez (T-AKR 306) (Source US Department of Defense 2019)
Strategic Sealift Officer Lt. David Gill runs radio tests in the bridge of Military Sealift Command large, medium-speed roll-on/roll-off (LMSR) vessel USNS Benavidez (T-AKR 306) (Source US Department of Defense 2019)

U.S. troops have begun construction of a maritime pier off the coast of Gaza that aims to speed the flow of humanitarian aid into the enclave when it becomes operational in May, the Pentagon said on Thursday.

President Joe Biden announced the pier in March as aid officials implored Israel to ease access for relief supplies into Gaza over land routes. 

Whether the pier will ultimately succeed in boosting humanitarian aid is unclear, as international officials warn of the risk of famine in northern Gaza.

Israel's six-month-long military campaign against Hamas has devastated the tiny Gaza Strip and plunged its 2.3 million people into a humanitarian catastrophe.

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 getting to Hamas fighters that boosts their war effort.

The prospect of checkpoints raises 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.

"I can confirm that U.S. military vessels, to include 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.

Concerns about the risk to 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 ground. No U.S. forces were present, however, and Biden has ordered U.S. forces to not step foot on the Gaza shore.

The pier will initially handle 90 trucks a day, but that number could go up 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 official added that about 1,000 U.S. troops would support the military effort, including in coordination cells in Cyprus and Israel.

A third party will be driving trucks down the pier onto the beach, the official added.

The northern Gaza Strip is still heading toward a famine, the deputy U.N. 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.

In a statement, the Israeli military said it would provide security and logistics support for the pier.

An Israeli military brigade, which includes thousands of soldiers, along with Israeli Navy ships and Air Force would work to protect U.S. troops who are setting up the pier.

Ryder said the Pentagon was tracking some type of mortar attack in Gaza that caused minimal damage in the marshalling area for the pier. But he added that U.S. forces had not started moving anything to that area yet and there were no U.S. forces on the ground.

(Reuters - Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart in Washington; Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien, Sandra Maler and Deepa Babington)

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