May 26, 2024

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The United States is close to completing the construction of a $320 million floating dock to aid Gaza

The United States is close to completing the construction of a $320 million floating dock to aid Gaza

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The US military is nearing completion of a $320 million floating dock off Gaza, a complex project that will allow humanitarian aid to be transported by sea to the blockaded enclave where more reliable land routes have been disrupted by politics and war.

Hundreds of US troops have spent weeks building the structure aimed at calming the dire humanitarian crisis in the Strip, where US Navy ships transport specialized equipment to a point about two miles offshore where aid ships arriving from Cyprus are supposed to dock.

From there, a fleet of small ships will transport the goods to a site on the Gaza coast, where the Israeli military has cleared 70 acres of land. The Pentagon estimates that this initiative has already cost $320 million. Trial runs of the pier could begin by mid-May at the earliest, and it is expected to operate only until the fall, when the weather changes, according to two people familiar with the project.

The project, which US President Joe Biden promised in early March, aims to overcome some of the obstacles created by Israeli politics and bureaucracy in getting enough aid to the Strip to save Gaza from the brink of famine.

But the necessity of such a complex and expensive effort to transport aid 250 miles from the Mediterranean island of Cyprus remains in question. Gaza has several border crossings through which the Strip can be “flooded with aid,” as American officials have repeatedly said they want.

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Instead, hundreds of trucks loaded with food, medicine and other much-needed supplies remain stuck outside Gaza's land borders awaiting clearance from the Israeli military, or unable to enter the Strip because damaged roads and lawlessness make distribution difficult.

“It's a wasteful distraction,” a senior UN official, who requested to remain anonymous, said of the new sidewalk. “There are roads, there are border crossings – there are [already] Aid is waiting outside Gaza.”

Humanitarian groups and the United States agree that trucking goods into Gaza is the best way to ensure that Palestinian civilians receive the thousands of tons of aid purchased by the United Nations and other international bodies.

The United Nations said in March that the entire Gaza Strip was on the verge of man-made famine, and that famine was spreading across the northern half of the Strip.

With Israel's refusal to allow the UNRWA relief agency to distribute seaborne aid, the United States brokered an agreement with the World Food Program to take over the task of delivering some aid to northern Gaza. The rest of the aid, which will travel for several days on board the ship, will be transported to UN warehouses in southern Gaza, some of which are located just a few minutes' drive from Israeli territory.

The inefficiency and cost of these shipments mirror what has happened with the aid pallets being airdropped into Gaza in recent weeks, with military transport ships carrying at most a few truckloads of supplies dropped from the back of planes. Many of them fell into the water, and some even injured and killed Palestinians.

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Persuading Israel to simplify and facilitate the transfer of aid to Gaza has become an international diplomatic endeavor. It took weeks of American pressure for Israel to partially open a crossing to allow aid trucks to drive 30 minutes from the port of Ashdod.

So far, the United Nations and other agencies complain of the insufficient number of scanners at Israeli security checkpoints, the arbitrary rejection of a number of trucks, and insufficient safety on the main roads inside Gaza for aid trucks to move.

Israel will inspect aid destined for the US dock in Cyprus itself, and US officials hope to speed up deliveries “once humanitarian aid reaches shore” in Gaza. The United Nations and other relief agencies said Israeli inspections at land borders were a recurring bottleneck.

A large section of the Israeli right-wing opposes the delivery of aid to civilians in Gaza until Hamas releases the hostages it is still holding, and the police have done little to break up periodic protests along the route that trucks must take, and at the entrance to the Strip. Kerem Shalom crossing, south of the Gaza Strip.

Protesters on Wednesday stopped a Jordanian aid convoy traveling through Israel, throwing supplies on the road, according to a video posted online. Israeli police said they were conducting an investigation.

A US official told reporters last week that the dock and adjacent infrastructure, at full capacity, may be able to handle the equivalent of about 150 truckloads of aid. Before the war began on October 7, Gaza was receiving about 500 aid trucks per day, while its average reached about 200 per day during the past six months.

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The United Nations estimates that Gaza needs up to 1,000 trucks of aid per day over the next few weeks to overcome major shortages of food, medicine and other vital supplies that have built up in the past few months.

In a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged that Israel had made some improvements since early April, when Biden pushed Netanyahu to streamline the movement of aid into Gaza.

“Progress is real but given the need, given the enormous need in Gaza, it must be accelerated and sustained,” Blinken said in the port of Ashdod on Wednesday.