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GAZA PIER | US begins building floating base to boost aid

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GAZA: The US military has started building a large floating pier off Gaza’s coast to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid, the defence department has said. Ships will deliver aid from Cyprus to the pier where it will be loaded onto trucks to transfer across Gaza.

The pier will be attached to the shore by a temporary causeway, which the trucks will use.

US officials say the pier will be operational by early May but there will be no US boots on the ground in Gaza. More than 1,000 US troops are expected to be involved in building the floating harbour, but the Pentagon made clear from the start that the workers would not set foot on land.

The causeway will be assembled at sea, allowing US forces to avoid stepping onto the ground.

The plan was first announced by President Joe Biden in March as part of efforts to tackle hunger in Gaza compounded by problems with aid deliveries, as Israel continues its military campaign against Hamas.

The UN has warned that famine in the Gaza Strip is “almost inevitable” and children are starving to death.

And a British naval vessel in the eastern Mediterranean will be a floating dormitory for the American soldiers and sailors. They will live and sleep aboard RFA [Royal Fleet Auxiliary] Cardigan Bay.

A Pentagon spokesperson, Major General Pat Ryder, told a news conference on Thursday: “US military vessels… have begun to construct the initial stages of the temporary pier and causeway at sea.” He said that the causeway would connect to the temporary pier, “which is out at sea, and the causeway which eventually will join land and be anchored, so to speak.”

The US says that once the system is operational, up to 150 trucks of aid could be delivered a day with two million meals, enough to feed almost all of the territory’s 2.3 million population.

American aid | Satellite image of the on-shore pier which has been under construction since March

Israel has faced international criticism with accusations it is limiting the amount of aid that reaches by land Gaza’s civilians in dire need of food. Israel has blamed aid agencies for the hold-ups. Israel said it would provide security and logistical support during the construction work and the transfer of aid from the pier to Gaza’s population.

But aid agencies have voiced concerns over how the Israeli military will handle security, and the parties are yet to reach an agreement about it.

A senior American official told Reuters news agency that humanitarian aid to be delivered off the pier would need to pass through Israeli checkpoints on land. That was despite the aid having already been inspected and screened by Israel in Cyprus prior to being shipped to Gaza.

Israel has reiterated that it would prevent any aid getting to Hamas fighters.

But the extra checkpoints once the aid is offloaded onto trucks have raised questions about possible delays. The UN agencies have long complained of obstacles to getting aid into Gaza and its distribution.

The World Food Programme has agreed to lead the delivery operation, but the UN agency said Israel must ensure that aid workers are not harmed.

Many aid groups are apprehensive about working in Gaza after seven World Central Kitchen workers were killed in an Israeli air strike on 1 April while driving in clearly marked vehicles with prior permission from the IDF to travel. ‑‑BBC

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