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US built floating pier off Gaza could be operational in 'days'

Original source (on modern site)

The pier was completed last week, and USAID Response Director says that in the coming day, they expect it to be affixed to the shore, and aid can then flow.

By SETH J. FRANTZMAN MAY 15, 2024 19:53 Updated: MAY 16, 2024 17:48 Humanitarian aid for Gaza is loaded onto platform in Larnaca, March 9, 2024 (photo credit: REUTERS/YIANNIS KOURTOGLOU)

The US-built pier that is supposed to help facilitate a maritime corridor of aid arriving from Cyprus to Gaza could be operational in days, according to a briefing that was held on the Gaza humanitarian pier on May 15.

The briefing took place with United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Response Director Dan Dieckhaus, who is also the response director for the agency's Levant humanitarian response, and US Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, who is the deputy commander of United States Central Command (CENTCOM).

The two officials provided a briefing on current issues facing the Gaza pier project and the humanitarian corridor that will be enabled by it. According to the comments in the briefing, Dieckhaus said that the current humanitarian situation in Gaza is "dire" and that it could be getting worse.

He said conditions are deteriorating, particularly in Rafah. He also said that the entire population of the Strip is facing acute food and security issues and they require food assistance, with famine looming. He said more than half of the population in northern Gaza is facing food insecurity, and in the south of Gaza, around a quarter of them are facing this issue. He also spoke about the health needs of children. Palestinians gather at the site of an Israeli strike on a house, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, February 9, 2024. (credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)

Dieckhaus said the "dire" situation was further complicated by the current situation in Rafah. He said that 450,000 people had fled since May 6. He didn't mention what had happened that day, but the context is that Hamas launched rockets at the Israeli area of Kerem Shalom killing four soldiers. The IDF then launched an offensive into eastern Rafah, with the military calling on people to leave the area on May 6.

The IDF then launched offensive into eastern Rafah

Throughout the comments, The response director did not mention Hamas, which controls most of Gaza after seven months of war, a war that Hamas started by attacking Israel on October 7, 2023.

Dieckhaus did say the US was concerned about the "closure" of critical border crossings. He said there were also concerns about further displacement of civilians and that USAID had continued to seek to increase aid deliveries. The maritime corridor is supposed to augment aid delivery and is not designed to replace the need for other aid deliveries currently happening by land, he noted.

He called the delivery of the aid via the sea an effort that would take place in an "independent, neutral and impartial manner," stressing that humanitarian organizations would determine who gets assistance in Gaza and who was prioritized. Dieckhaus said this mission requires coordination with many partners. He also spoke about how critical it was for humanitarian workers to be able to deliver aid, despite the great personal risk they face in Gaza.

The US official said that the maritime corridor is expected to be operational in the coming days.

Flood the zone

VICE-ADM. COOPER described the military's role in this effort. He noted that back in March, the US had decided to send ships to the region to build the floating pier under a unique US capability called Joint Logistics Over-The-Shore (JLOTS). He stressed that providing this capability was the US military's "only role."

He also described how this was only one of several ways that America is helping to "flood the zone" with aid. He described 38 airdrops that have taken place and the delivery of 3 million meals via air. The US ships that left Fort Eustis in March sailed around 11,000 km. he said.

The pier was completed last week and Cooper says that in the coming days they expect it to be affixed to the shore and then aid can flow. He called the pier temporary in nature, saying that "there will be no US military boots on the ground." He also noted the complexity of the operation, involving many partners. The UK provided a ship, for instance.

The way the maritime corridor will work is as follows. In Cyprus, the aid is screened, prepared, put on pallets and then on ships. The ships sail several days from Cyprus and arrive at the platform which is off the coast of Gaza. The cargo is loaded to the platform and then onto trucks. The trucks then go onto smaller ships that shuttle the aid from the floating platform to a floating pier that is affixed to the shore. The aid then disembarks via the trucks and can go into Gaza. The trucks repeat this process and groups like the World Food Programme are involved on the land side.

Cooper said the US takes the security of the personnel very seriously. He calls this a "100% humanitarian mission." There are coordination centers that have been established in Israel and Cyprus to work on this project. He described Israel as being highly supportive.

DURING THE briefing, several questions were asked, such as about concerns that the trucks could be looted once they reach Gaza. In the past, images have shown Hamas gunmen getting onto trucks once they reach areas of Hamas control. The officials did not mention Hamas in the briefing, leaving it a kind of elephant in the room.

Nevertheless, Dieckhaus said that once the aid reaches land, the humanitarians will conduct community relations and make sure the aid gets where it needs to go. There are also surveys conducted to make sure it reaches the right people. The US officials do not think the JLOTS pier is exposed to additional risk beyond what already takes place in Gaza.

Dieckhaus said that the current delivery of aid into Gaza is insufficient and that he wants to see more openings of existing crossings and potentially more crossings as well. "We cannot afford for any crossings to go off line or [experience] a decrease. We are pressing for the reopening of any closed crossings including Rafah; we understand that discussions are ongoing with regional governments," he said.

This apparently referred to the fact Egypt closed the Rafah crossing after the IDF offensive into Rafah on May 7 when the IDF seized the crossing. He did not mention this though in the comments. He did discuss the issue of facilitating aid moving into and around Gaza, mentioning "checkpoints" and mission approvals for the aid moving around.

The two men were also asked whether the Palestinian Authority was supportive. Cooper said that the issue has been discussed with the PA and that "there is support and questions about how it will ensure assistance; there is support for anything that increases assistance."

The officials called on all parties not to interfere with the new corridor. Cooper noted there were around 1,000 US service personnel involved in the mission. Meanwhile Dieckhaus responded to a question about humanitarians being harmed in Gaza, such as the killing of the World Central Kitchen workers in early April. "Deconfliction failures need to end," he said, describing talks with the Israeli government about coordination procedures, saying that "we are not satisfied at where they are now."

The comments about the arrival of the pier are important, illustrating that the project is about to become operational after two months. It also shows the US was able to use this capability in a crisis. It now remains to be seen how it will actually work. 

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