US military says aid pier anchored to Gaza beach

A US CENTCOM handout picture shows the temporary pier in the Mediterranean Sea on May 1 (-)
A US CENTCOM handout picture shows the temporary pier in the Mediterranean Sea on May 1 (-)

US troops on Thursday anchored a long-awaited temporary pier aimed at ramping up emergency aid to a beach in the war-ravaged Gaza Strip, the US military and Israel said.

The US Central Command said the pier was "successfully affixed to the beach in Gaza" with around 500 tonnes of aid expected to enter the Palestinian territory in the coming days.

"It's a pretty substantial amount, and it's spread out over multiple ships right now," Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, deputy CENTCOM commander, told reporters in Washington.

Israel's military also said in a statement that the connection was "successfully completed".

But Farhan Haq, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said negotiations remained ongoing on distribution of the aid -- particularly on the safety of workers.

"We are finalising our operational plans to make sure that we're ready to handle it once the floating dock is properly functioning, while ensuring the safety of our staff," he said.

The Gaza war has been devastating for aid workers. The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, which Israel accuses of bias, has alone lost 188 Gaza staff, according to UN figures.

Asked about the concerns, State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said the United States was working with the United Nations on practicalities but added: "From our point of view, we believe that this is ready to go and for aid to start flowing as soon as possible."

US President Joe Biden announced the emergency pier in March to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where the United Nations has warned of famine with virtually the entire population of 2.4 million displaced by the Israeli military action in response to the October 7 Hamas attack.

Built at a cost of at least $320 million, the project is extraordinary in that such massive humanitarian efforts by the United States are usually in response to actions by hostile countries, not a US ally.

The humanitarian assistance is being screened in Cyprus and loaded by truck. Once on land, it will "move quickly", being offloaded from the coast into Gaza within hours, Cooper said, adding that "thousands of tonnes of aid are in the pipeline".

He said that around 1,000 US soldiers and sailors were involved in the operation but that they would not take part in delivery, which will be led by the UN.

- 'Land routes most effective' -

The war began after Hamas's October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel's military retaliation has killed at least 35,272 people, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

The UN has argued that opening up land crossing points and allowing more trucks convoys into Gaza is the only way to stem the spiralling humanitarian crisis.

But the primary crossing into Gaza, on the territory's border with Egypt, has been closed for days.

Israeli troops took over the Palestinian side of the crossing last week as the military threatened a wider assault on the southern city, defying warnings from the United States and others over the fate of some 1.4 million civilians who had been sheltering there.

"Of course we're thankful to the US for all the work they've done in creating the floating dock. However, getting aid to people in need into and across Gaza cannot and should not depend on a floating dock far from where needs are most acute," Haq said.

- More required -

Cyprus, the Mediterranean island nation that is the departure point for aid on the planned maritime corridor, said US ship James A. Loux left Wednesday, carrying relief supplies and technical equipment.

Government spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis said that "new departures are expected, transporting humanitarian aid including food items, medical supplies, hygiene and temporary shelter".

Britain, meanwhile, said its initial contribution of nearly 100 tonnes of "shelter coverage kits" figured in the first shipment.

The pier will begin with facilitating the delivery of around 90 truckloads of international aid into Gaza each day, before volumes are scaled up to 150 truckloads daily, a British statement said.