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Israel-Hamas war: US military completes construction of floating pier for Gaza Strip

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. military completed the installation of a floating pier for the Gaza Strip on Thursday, and officials are ready to begin delivering much-needed humanitarian aid to the enclave under siege for seven months. intense fighting in the war between Israel and Hamas.

The final construction, which happened overnight, set up a complicated delivery process more than two months after U.S. President Joe Biden ordered it to help Palestinians facing famine. food and other supplies fail to arrive as Israel recently seized the key Rafah border crossing in its push on the southern town on the Egyptian border.

Full of logistical, weather and security challenges, the sea route is designed to increase the amount of aid entering the Gaza Strip, but it is not seen as a substitute for the much cheaper land deliveries which humanitarian agencies view as much more sustainable. The aid-laden boats will be dropped off at an Israeli-built port facility just southwest of Gaza City, then distributed by humanitarian groups.

American troops will not set foot in Gaza, American officials insist, even though they recognize the danger of operating near the war zone.

Heavy fighting between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants on the outskirts of Rafah has displaced some 600,000 people, or a quarter of Gaza’s population, according to UN officials. An additional 100,000 civilians have fled parts of northern Gaza now that the Israeli army has resumed combat operations there.

Pentagon officials said the fighting in Gaza did not threaten the new coastal aid distribution zone, but they made clear that security conditions would be closely monitored and could lead to a closure of the sea route, even temporarily. The site was previously targeted by mortar fire during its construction and Hamas has threatened to target any foreign force that “occupies” the Gaza Strip.

“Protecting participating U.S. forces is a top priority. “That’s why, over the past several weeks, the United States and Israel have developed an integrated security plan to protect all working personnel,” said Navy Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, deputy commander of Central Command. of the American army. “We are confident in the ability of this security arrangement to protect those involved.”

US troops anchored the pier at 7:40 a.m. local time on Thursday, the military’s Central Command said in a statement, stressing that none of its forces entered the Gaza Strip.

“Trucks carrying humanitarian aid are expected to begin disembarking in the coming days,” the statement said. “The United Nations will receive the aid and coordinate its distribution in Gaza. »

It was not immediately clear which United Nations agency would be involved.

Israeli forces will be responsible for shoreline security, but there are also two US Navy warships near the area in the eastern Mediterranean, the USS Arleigh Burke and the USS Paul Ignatius. . Both ships are destroyers equipped with a wide range of weapons and capabilities to protect U.S. troops offshore and their allies on the beach.

Humanitarian agencies say they are running out of food in southern Gaza and that fuel is dwindling, forcing hospitals to halt critical operations and suspend aid truck deliveries. The United Nations and other agencies have warned for weeks that an Israeli attack on Rafah, located on the border with Egypt, near the main aid entry points, would cripple humanitarian operations and cause a disastrous increase in the number of civilian casualties.

More … than 1.4 million Palestinians – half of Gaza’s population – took refuge in Rafah, most after fleeing Israeli offensives elsewhere.

The first cargo ship loaded with 475 pallets of food left Cyprus last week to join a US military ship, the Roy P. Benavidez, off the coast of Gaza. Aid pallets from the MV Sagamore were moved to the Benavidez. The Pentagon said moving the aid between ships was an effort to be ready so it could move quickly once the pier and causeway were installed.

The installation of the pier several kilometers from the coast and the causeway, now anchored to the beach, was delayed by almost two weeks due to bad weather and high seas. Sea conditions made it too dangerous for U.S. and Israeli troops to secure the causeway to shore and carry out other final assembly work, U.S. officials said.

According to a defense official, the Sagamore’s initial cargo was estimated to be enough to feed 11,000 people for a month. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to provide details that have not yet been made public.

Military leaders said aid deliveries would begin slowly to keep the system running smoothly. They will start with around 90 aid trucks per day via the sea route, and this number will quickly increase to around 150 per day. But aid agencies say this is not enough to avert a looming famine in Gaza and must be only part of a broader Israeli effort to open land corridors.

Biden used his State of the Union Address on March 7 to order the army to set up a temporary dock off the coast of Gaza, establishing a sea route to deliver food and other aid. Food shipments have been blocked at land crossings due to Israeli restrictions and intensifying fighting.

Thanks to the new sea route, the humanitarian aid is disembarked in Cyprus where it will be subject to inspection and security checks at the port of Larnaca. It is then loaded onto ships – mainly commercial vessels – and transported about 320 kilometers to the large floating pier built by the US military off the coast of Gaza.

There, the pallets are transferred to trucks, transported to smaller military boats, and then transported several kilometers to the floating causeway, which has been anchored on the beach by the Israeli army. Trucks, which are driven by personnel from another countrywill walk down the causeway to a secure land area where they will drop off the aid and immediately turn around and return to the boats.

Humanitarian groups will collect the supplies for distribution on land, with the UN working with the US Agency for International Development to set up the logistics hub on the beach.

Sabrina Singh, a Pentagon spokeswoman, told reporters that the the project will cost at least $320 millionincluding transporting equipment and pier sections from the United States to the Gaza coast, as well as construction and aid delivery operations.

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Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

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News Source : apnews.com

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