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US sends ship to Gaza with materials to construct pier

A U.S. ship departed Virginia on Thursday carrying heavy equipment and materials for troops to construct a pier off the coast of Gaza, part of a bid to get more humanitarian aid into the besieged coastal strip.

The Bob Hope-class merchant vessel Roy P. Benavidez left Newport News, Va., with materials for the floating pier, called a Joint Logistics-Over-the-Shore (JLOTS).

The Benavidez is part of a reserve fleet for the U.S. Department of Transportation but is operated by the Navy’s Military Sealift Command for the mission. The ship can carry up to 380,000 square feet of cargo.

The merchant ship will deliver the materials to the U.S. Army’s 7th Transportation Brigade, which departed earlier this month for Gaza with other components for the pier.

The Defense Department says the pier construction effort could take up to two months and will involve at least 1,000 troops. Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters Thursday the estimate to build the pier is roughly 60 days from when the announcement for the pier was made in early March.

The U.S. military has used a JLOTS before, including off the coast of Haiti.

Army Lt. Gen. John P. Sullivan, deputy commander of U.S. Transportation Command, said the JLOTS system “is a critical capability that allows ship-to-shore cargo distribution in the absence of a usable pier.”

“It can be used to augment an established port or to create a pier where one is needed, and allows us to support areas where large populations are isolated from food, water, and other forms of humanitarian aid,” Sullivan said in a statement.

The U.S. is trying to help Palestinians as the United Nations has warned of a looming famine, particularly in the north of Gaza as Israel continues to fight Palestinian militant group Hamas.

While Washington backs Israel in the war, the U.S. military is also airdropping food into the strip to alleviate the crisis, while the pier is expected to do more for humanitarian aid.

The U.S. will not be putting boots on the ground in Gaza, rather it will work with humanitarian aid groups and international partners through a maritime corridor from the island of Cyprus to get aid into the strip.

Gen. Michael Kurilla, head of U.S. Central Command, said during a House Armed Services hearing Thursday the floating pier will be out at sea and another pier will connect to the beach of Gaza. Army watercraft will transport aid from the floating pier to the Gaza beach pier for distribution.

Kurilla said all the ships required for the mission should be in place soon.

“All that should be arriving in the theater in the first couple of weeks of April,” he said.

Israel is fighting Hamas in retaliation for an Oct. 7 attack that killed more than 1,100 people in southern Israel. Another roughly 250 were kidnapped, with around 100 still left alive in Gaza. More than 31,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza.

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