US delivers first aid shipment to Gaza using temporary pier

Vehicles carry vital supplies on to shore after Israel launches series of deadly air strikes across besieged enclave

The US-built floating pier could allow up to 150 aid lorries a day to enter the Gaza Strip. AFP
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Lorries carrying humanitarian aid have been driven ashore in Gaza using a temporary pier set up by the US military, as Israel carries out air strikes across the war-ravaged enclave.

US Central Command said the first aid shipment was delivered to Gaza using the newly built pier, but emphasised that no American troops went ashore.

"Today at approximately 9am [local time], trucks carrying humanitarian assistance began moving ashore via a temporary pier in Gaza. No US troops went ashore in Gaza," it said in a statement.

“This is an ongoing, multinational effort to deliver additional aid to Palestinian civilians in Gaza via a maritime corridor that is entirely humanitarian in nature."

Local sources in Gaza told The National that the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) will distribute some of that aid.

"In less than two months, the United States was able to assemble a complex multinational logistical mechanism to facilitate the delivery of life-saving assistance in Gaza, to galvanise commitments from partners around the world, and to leverage the United Nations logistical capabilities to facilitate the distribution of this aid," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said in a briefing on Friday.

Photos taken from southern Gaza and seen by The National showed vehicles belonging to the WFP driving ahead of the aid lorries.

US officials have said repeatedly that humanitarian supplies delivered using the pier should not be considered a substitute for shipments sent by land.

The project could allow up to 150 aid lorries a day to enter Gaza, compared with the more than 500 that once carried aid and goods into the enclave by land each day.

"This is meant to be additive, this temporary pier to be additive, not an alternative," Mr Kirby stressed.

"There's just no alternative really to getting trucks in on the ground."

He added that more than 300 pallets of aid had been delivered on the first day of the operational pier.

Israel, which seized control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt last week, has restricted aid flows into Gaza as it fights against Hamas.

Sonali Korde, assistant to the administrator of USAID's Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, said on Thursday that food insecurity in northern Gaza had reached “catastrophic” levels. He was speaking as the Pentagon announced the completion of the emergency aid pier.

Ensuring the flow of aid

US officials addressed concerns that the project put the 1,000 American personnel in the area at risk. Pentagon spokesman Maj Gen Pat Ryder said the floating pier was “well out of mortar range".

While Israel is to provide security for the temporary pier, Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said there had been no indications that Hamas planned to attack it.

"But should there be attacks either towards the maritime humanitarian corridor or around the marshalling area, that is going to directly affect Palestinian people, the people that need this aid the most," Ms Singh said.

As to the safety of the aid deliveries once they arrive on the ground in Gaza, the US said it was not concerned.

"We are not worried about the Israelis striking the convoys of trucks that are coming off of that pier," Mr Kirby said.

Earlier this year, Israel launched an attack on a World Central Kitchen aid convoy, killing seven. Mr Kirby noted that Israel had apologised and fired those behind the attack.

He also said Israel has updated their deconfliction process, a system set up to protect humanitarian workers in the enclave.

US President Joe Biden's administration announced in March that it planned to establish the pier as part of efforts to ease Gaza's humanitarian crisis, after seven months of war that killed more than 35,300 Palestinians, according to officials in the enclave.

The conflict began after a Hamas-led attack on October 7 that killed about 1,200 people in Israel, per government officials.

The pier forms part of a US military system called Joint Logistics Over the Shore, or JLots, which was used in military operations during the 1991 Gulf War, as well as in countries that suffered humanitarian disasters, including Haiti.

In his State of the Union speech in March, Mr Biden blamed Israel for the deteriorating situation in Gaza, saying that “humanitarian assistance cannot be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip”.

The WFP said in a post on X that the threat of famine in the besieged enclave has “never loomed larger”, and that stocks of fuel and food would run out in days.

The inaugural aid shipment comes a day after US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant. Mr Austin emphasised the “unquestionable necessity” of ensuring aid was allowed to enter Gaza, the Pentagon said.

Meanwhile, deadly strikes on northern, central and southern areas of Gaza continued on Thursday night. At least four people were killed in a strike on a school sheltering refugees in Nuseirat camp, in central Gaza, the Wafa news agency reported.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted on Thursday that the ground assault on Rafah was vital to efforts to "destroy" Hamas and prevent any repetition of the October 7 attack.

Israel on Friday also began its defence against accusations of genocide in Gaza, in a case lodged by South Africa at the International Court of Justice.

Nagham Mohanna contributed to this report from Gaza

Updated: June 13, 2024, 12:50 PM