US-built floating pier that will allow delivery of humanitarian aid has been anchored in Gaza

The floating pier that will allow for humanitarian aid to flow into Gaza from the sea has been anchored to a beach in Gaza, according to US Central Command (CENTCOM).

Personnel anchored the pier at about 7:40 a.m. local time, “supporting the humanitarian mission to deliver additional humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians,” CENTCOM said in a statement. The pier had traveled on Wednesday from the port of Ashdod, about 30 miles away, to the Gaza beach.

Aid will begin being delivered through pier in the coming days, Pentagon and USAID officials told reporters on Thursday, citing the “skyrocketing” humanitarian needs in Gaza.

Trucks are expected to begin moving the aid ashore in the coming days, while the United Nations will coordinate distribution within the besieged strip, CENTCOM said, adding that no US troops had entered Gaza.

“This is necessary because of the absolutely dire conditions in Gaza,” said Sonali Korde, the assistant to the administrator of USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance. “Conditions on the ground have not improved and in the past two weeks we have seen a vital border crossing close, and at a time when it is critical we see more aid move. Across Gaza, 2.2 million people the entire population, is facing acute food insecurity.”

The new humanitarian assistance entry point will become operational at a critical moment given the Rafah border crossing into Gaza has been closed for more than a week, preventing aid from getting through the sole crossing between Gaza and Egypt. The US State Department warned that only 50 humanitarian aid trucks made it through to Gaza on Sunday, down from hundreds per day in previous weeks, adding that the number is “not nearly enough.”

The Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore (JLOTS) system consists of two parts: the floating pier where shipments will be offloaded and the causeway to transfer the shipments to the distribution point in Gaza.

On Wednesday, the UK announced that its first shipment of humanitarian aid, including 8,400 temporary shelters, is on its way from Cyprus to Gaza. Cyprus is the staging point for the humanitarian aid that will be shipped to Gaza through the maritime corridor and the pier.

“The aid will be distributed within Gaza as soon as feasible,” the UK said in its announcement.

Tons of aid ready for delivery

In total, hundreds of tons of humanitarian assistance is ready for delivery in the coming days, said Adm. Brad Cooper, the commander of the US Naval Forces Central Command, in the briefing on Thursday.

The temporary pier is intended to supplement the aid going in through the land crossings into Gaza. The goal is to get in about 500 tons of humanitarian assistance into Gaza through the pier daily, Cooper said. That would amount to about 90 trucks a day, and the goal is to build up to 150 trucks a day, he added.

Earlier in the week, Cooper stressed that the pier was not intended to replace land routes into Gaza, and there would be “no US military boots on the ground in Gaza.”

Cooper also laid out how the process would go. First, the aid arrives in Cyprus where it is screened and prepared. Then, large commercial ships bring that aid to a “floating platform” near the Gaza coast, where it is then transferred to smaller vessels that can dock at the temporary pier. Once ashore, the aid will be distributed into Gaza by the UN and World Food Program.

There are currently “hundreds of tons of aid ready for delivery and thousands of tons of aid in the pipeline,” from multiple nations, Cooper said.

The main role of the US military is to provide its “unique logistics capability,” Cooper said.

Korde stressed that there are many other nations and players involved in the overall operation.

“This is a complex aid mission that requires continuous coordination between many partners. The support and contributions of the United Nations, the government of Cyprus and other international partners, including the UK, EU, UAE and France just to name a few, is vital. Uniting all of us and underpinning this entire mission is a commitment to save lives,” Korde said.

There are two coordination cells in place for this operation, one in Israel and one in Cyprus, and those have been up and running for weeks, Cooper said on Thursday. Those involved in the cells include: Israeli partners, the US, the Cypriots, the UN, and NGOs.

The humanitarian organizations in Gaza will determine how to ensure that the aid reaches those in need in a “independent, neutral and impartial manner consistent with humanitarian principles,” said Korde.

Still, after weeks of efforts, the deconfliction efforts between NGOs and Israel to protect humanitarian workers in Gaza are not where they need to be, US officials warned on Thursday.

“The deconfliction measures are not where they need to be yet, given the complexity of the environment,” Korde said, noting that humanitarian workers need to feel safe.

The officials also stressed that the Israeli government has been “highly supportive” of the US mission to get the pier set up.

Challenges along the way

Last week, CNN reported that the US still faced a number of obstacles before JLOTS could begin operations. The US was closely watching whether what it called a “limited” Israeli incursion into Rafah in southern Gaza would affect the temporary pier. In addition, the US had not yet finalized plans about who would transport the humanitarian aid shipments from the causeway to the distribution point in Gaza.

On Monday, the Pentagon said it had contracted drivers for the pier, though it declined to identify the drivers.

“I can just tell you it’s a third-party contractor, but that’s it,” deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh said at a press briefing. Once the humanitarian aid arrives in Gaza, the UN World Food Program will distribute it to the Palestinian population.

On Tuesday, Ryder said security was in place to allow JLOTS operations to begin when the pier was ready.

“We’re confident that we’ll have the security in place that we need,” Ryder said.

JLOTS will cost approximately $320 million to operate for the first three months, according to the Pentagon.

Cooper also addressed security concerns, saying the US and Israel have developed a plan to protect all personnel working on the project in the area, though he did not share more specific details. On Thursday, he said the that the US will be re-assessing the security environment daily to make sure that the operation can continue.

Dan Dieckhaus, the response director of USAID, acknowledged there is “constant risk” – but added that JLOTS and the causeway are not “exposed to any additional risk above and beyond that which is already present in Gaza.”

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

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