First shipment of aid to US-built floating pier in Gaza departs Cyprus

AP , AFP , Ahram Online , Thursday 9 May 2024

A shipment of humanitarian aid left a port in Cyprus on Thursday morning and was on its way to the U.S-built pier in Gaza, the first delivery to the newly built ramp, Cyprus’ foreign minister said.

A view of the open arms ship and the container ship Sagamore, right, docked at Larnaca port, Cyprus, Wednesday, May 8, 2024, where food heading to Gaza is being loaded for eventual delivery. AP


The relief is desperately needed, with the United Nations saying people in Gaza are on the brink of famine and Israeli troops have ordered the evacuation of 100,000 Palestinians from Gaza’s southern city of Rafah. Earlier this week, Israel deployed tanks to seize Gaza's nearby Rafah crossing with Egypt, shutting down a vital border entry point needed to get assistance into the battered Strip.

The U.S. vessel Sagamore, loaded with much-needed humanitarian assistance, departed from the port of Larnaca early on Thursday to transfer as much aid to Gaza as possible through the maritime corridor, said Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos.

The vessel's voyage comes about two months after Biden gave the order for the building of the large floating platform several miles off the Gaza coast to be a launching pad for deliveries since not enough aid was getting in through land crossings, which require stringent checks by Israel, and by airdrops.

The U.S. military finished the construction of the temporary pier and causeway, Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh said Tuesday, but plans to move it into place on the shore were on hold due to weather and other logistics.

Singh told reporters that U.S. military ships and the assembled pier were at the Ashdod port and that high winds and sea swells made it too dangerous to install the pier at the Gaza beach.

An official from Cyprus told The Associated Press that if conditions didn't allow for the vessel to offload directly onto the pier, it would load smaller vessels, which would transport the aid directly to Gaza. 

Still, humanitarian workers say aid coming by sea won’t be enough to alleviate the dire humanitarian suffering in Gaza and that the most effective way to get assistance in is by land.

Airdrops kill

Hamas on Thursday called for an end to airdrops of aid after two Palestinians were killed in northern Gaza when an aid pallet crashed into a warehouse after its parachute failed to open.

The latest fatalities take to at least 21 the number of people killed when airdrops of aid have gone disastrously wrong, according to the Hamas authorities.

"We reiterate that airdrops pose a real danger to the lives of citizens and do not provide a real solution to alleviate the food crisis plaguing northern Gaza," Salama Marouf, head of the government's media office in Gaza, said in a statement.

"We call for an immediate halt to the delivery of aid in this ineffective and erroneous manner, and we call for the full activation of the land crossings to deliver humanitarian aid to northern Gaza."

With only a trickle of aid reaching the starving north and the United Nations warning of "imminent famine", foreign governments have turned to airdrops to get aid into the territory.

Aid agencies say the situation has deteriorated this week after Israeli forces closed the Rafah border crossing with Egypt after taking control of it.

Relief also has not been transferred into Gaza through the other main crossing between Israel and the Palestinian territory, Karm Abou Salem (Kerem Shalom), after a Palestinian rocket targeted an Israeli military base nearby on Sunday.​

The closure of the Rafah crossing and the nearby Karm Abou Salem crossing cut off the entry of food, supplies and fuel for aid trucks and generators.

International aid groups warned Wednesday that a distribution network is at risk of collapse across the territory because fuel shipments into Gaza were cut off. Israel’s threat of invasion of Rafah itself, where many of the aid groups have based their warehouses and staff, is also further disrupting distribution, the groups said.

Trucks let through from Israel must be unloaded and the cargo reloaded onto trucks in Gaza, but no workers in Gaza can get to the facility to do so because it is too dangerous, the U.N. says.

The World Food Programme’s (WFP’s) director for Palestine, Matthew Hollingworth, said the UN agency’s main warehouse in Rafah is now inaccessible, and tha no aid has entered from border crossings in southern Gaza in two days.

"Thousands of people are on the move. Only one bakery is still working. Supplies of food & fuel in Gaza will only last 1-3 days," he said.

"Without them, our operations will go to standstill."



Attacks persist

Meanwhile, attacks continued across Gaza with an Israeli airstrike on a residential building killing eight people, including four children, late Wednesday, according to hospital records. The strike hit a residential building in the area of Tel al-Sultan in western Rafah.

It remains uncertain whether Israel will launch an all-out invasion of Rafah as international efforts for a cease-fire continue.

The United States, which opposes a Rafah invasion, has said Israel has not provided a credible plan for evacuating and protecting civilians now crammed in Rafah.

Israel has killed over 34,800 Palestinians in Gaza since October, according to health ministry, and has driven some 80% of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million Palestinians from their homes.

President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that he would not supply offensive weapons that Israel could use to launch an all-out assault on Rafah, over concern for the well-being of the more than 1 million civilians sheltering there.

Biden, in an interview with CNN, said the U.S. was still committed to Israel’s defence and would supply Iron Dome rocket interceptors and other defensive arms, but that if Israel goes into Rafah, “we’re not going to supply the weapons and artillery shells used.”

In response, extremist Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir implied in a post on the social platform X that Hamas loves Biden, using a heart emoji in the tweet. He has pushed for a punishing military response and has threatened to leave the government if Israel does not carry out a wide-ranging military operation in Rafah.

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