Rough seas damage US-built Gaza pier; deliveries suspended

Rough seas damage US-built Gaza pier; deliveries suspended

The U.S.-built pier on the Gaza Strip coast will be removed for repair after it was damaged by rough seas, causing Washington to temporarily suspend aid deliveries to starving Palestinians via the structure, the Pentagon announced Tuesday.

The pier, which was damaged earlier Tuesday, will be removed from its anchored position on the coast over the next 48 hours, Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters.

The structure will be towed to Ashdod in southern Israel where U.S. Central Command will conduct repairs, which are expected to take “at least over a week” before it can be re-anchored to the coast of Gaza, she said.

“I can’t predict weather patterns, I can’t predict that there won’t be high seas again. But from when it was operational, it was working. And we just had sort of an unfortunate confluence of weather storms that made it inoperable for a bit,” Singh added. “Hopefully, just a little over a week, we should be back up and running.”

The incident highlights the many difficulties around conducting the humanitarian assistance operation via the quickly built, $320 million pier, which had only been operational for less than two weeks.

The structure, part of a maritime corridor to provide aid to Gaza, receives goods shipped from Cyprus that are then loaded onto trucks, driven onto Army watercraft and sailed to the pier anchored to the beach in the besieged territory.

The process is one of the limited ways that food and medical supplies can reach Palestinians after many of its land crossings have been choked off or throttled by Israel in a nearly eight month war with Hamas in the enclave.

But the effort has also been marked by challenges, including rough seas that delayed its construction, the injury of three U.S. service members last week and four vessels that broke off the pier and were beached in Israel and Gaza after heavy seas over the weekend.

Of the service members injured, two have since returned to duty though the third is still in critical condition, Singh said.

She also noted that of the four Army boats that became unmoored, two were stuck on the beach in Israel, with one already recovered and the other to be retrieved in the next 24 hours. The remaining two vessels were on the beach in Gaza with a planned recovery in the next two days, Singh said.

In addition, the aid coming off the pier has not always reached its intended targets, with Singh acknowledging “there has been an issue of self-distribution.”

The pier’s suspension comes after more than 1,000 metric tons of food aid was delivered through the pier, though U.S. officials have stressed that structure won’t make up for the aid that could be getting through land corridors. Only about 500,000 Palestinians could be fed with the supplies from the pier, with the Biden administration pushing for more checkpoints to open for humanitarian trucks so the remaining 1.8 million civilians can be fed.

The U.S. has continued to provide airdrops of food, but Singh said there are no current plans to increase the airdrops while the pier is being repaired.

“If there’s a way to move aid that we could reposition it somewhere else and be able to conduct an airdrop from somewhere else, that would certainly be a possibility,” she said.

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