In Photos: Aid trucks rolling across new US pier into Gaza amid lingering challenges

AP , Saturday 18 May 2024

Trucks carrying badly needed aid for Gaza rolled across a newly built U.S. pier and into the besieged Strip for the first time Friday as Israeli restrictions on border crossings and heavy fighting hindered the delivery of food and other supplies.

Trucks loaded with humanitarian aid from the United Arab Emirates and the United States Agency for I
Trucks loaded with humanitarian aid from the United Arab Emirates and the United States Agency for International Development cross the Trident Pier before entering the beach in Gaza, on May 17, 2024. AP

 

The shipment is the first in an operation that American military officials anticipate could scale up to 150 truckloads a day, all while Israel presses in on the southern city of Rafah in its seven-month offensive on Gaza.

At the White House, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said “more than 300 pallets” of aid were in the initial delivery and handed over to the U.N., which was preparing it for distribution.

Kirby said the U.S. has gotten indications that “some of that aid was already moving into Gaza.”

But the U.S., U.N. and aid groups warn that the floating pier project is not a substitute for land deliveries that could bring in all the food, water and fuel needed in Gaza. Before the war, more than 500 truckloads entered the Palestinian territory on an average day.

The operation's success also remains tenuous because of the risk of militant attack, logistical hurdles and a growing shortage of fuel for the aid trucks due to the Israeli blockade of Gaza since 7 October.

The Israeli war on Gaza has killed more than 35,000 and wounded 80,000 Palestinians in Gaza while hundreds more have been killed in the West Bank.

Aid agencies say they are running out of food in southern Gaza, while the U.N. World Food Program says famine has already taken hold in Gaza’s north.

Troops finished installing the floating pier on Thursday, and the U.S. military's Central Command said the first aid crossed into Gaza at 9 a.m. Friday. It said no American troops went ashore in the operation.

The Pentagon said no backups were expected in the distribution process. The U.S. plan is for the United Nations, through the World Food Program, to take charge of the aid once it leaves the pier.

This will involve coordinating the arrival of empty trucks and their registration, overseeing the transfer of goods coming through the floating dock to the trucks and their dispatch to warehouses across Gaza, and, finally, handing over the supplies to aid groups for delivery.

The WFP said Friday evening that aid that came through the pier had been transported to its warehouses in Deir al-Balah and was ready for collection and distribution.

The U.K. said some of its aid for Gaza was in the first shipment that went ashore, including the first of 8,400 kits to provide temporary shelter made of plastic sheeting. And it said more aid, including 2,000 additional shelter kits, 900 tents, five forklift trucks and 9,200 hygiene kits, will follow in the coming weeks.

“This is the culmination of a Herculean joint international effort," said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. “We know the maritime route is not the only answer. We need to see more land routes open, including via the Rafah crossing, to ensure much more aid gets safely to civilians in desperate need of help.”

The U.N. humanitarian aid coordinating agency said the start of the operation was welcome but not a replacement for deliveries by land.

“I think everyone in the operation has said it: Any and all aid into Gaza is welcome by any route,” Jens Laerke, spokesman of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told journalists in Geneva on Friday. Getting aid to people in Gaza “cannot and should not depend on a floating dock far from where needs are most acute.”

Anastasia Moran, an associate director of the International Rescue Committee, argues that the pier is diverting attention from the surging humanitarian crisis.

Over the past couple of months, “the maritime route has been taking time and energy and resources at a time when aid has not been scaled up,” she said. “And now that the maritime route is up and running, the land crossings have been effectively shut down.”

During the nine days between May 6, when Israel began the Rafah offensive, and May 15, a total of 154 trucks carrying food and 156 carrying flour have entered Gaza through three land crossings, U.N. deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq said Friday. Haq also warned this week that almost no fuel is getting through.

Under pressure from the U.S., Israel has opened a pair of crossings to deliver aid into the territory’s hard-hit north in recent weeks.

The U.N. says Israeli fire and chaotic security conditions have hindered delivery. There have also been violent protests by Israelis that disrupted aid shipments.

Israel recently seized the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing around that city on the Egyptian border, raising fears about civilians' safety while also cutting off the main entry for aid into the Gaza Strip.

U.S. President Joe Biden ordered the pier project, expected to cost $320 million. The boatloads of aid will be deposited at a port facility built by the Israelis just southwest of Gaza City. The U.S. has closely coordinated with Israel on how to protect the ships and personnel working on the beach.

Concern about the safety of aid workers was highlighted last month when an Israeli strike killed seven relief workers from World Central Kitchen whose trip had been coordinated with Israeli officials. The group had also brought aid in by sea.

Pentagon officials have made it clear that security conditions will be monitored closely and could prompt a shutdown of the maritime route, even if just temporarily. Already, the site has been targeted by mortar fire during its construction, and Hamas has threatened to target any foreign forces who “occupy” the Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces are in charge of security on shore, but there are also two U.S. Navy warships nearby that can protect U.S. troops and others.

The aid for the sea route is collected and inspected in Cyprus, then loaded onto ships and taken about 200 miles (320 kilometres) to the large floating pier off the Gaza coast.

There, the pallets are transferred onto the trucks that then drive onto the Army boats, which will shuttle the trucks from the pier to a floating causeway anchored to the beach. Once the trucks drop off the aid, they return to the boats.

Bread and guns?
 

On Tuesday, the Biden administration told key lawmakers it would send more than $1 billion in additional arms and ammunition to Israel, three congressional aides said Tuesday. But it was not immediately known how soon the weapons would be delivered.

It's the first arms shipment to Israel to be revealed since the administration put another arms transfer, consisting of 3,500 bombs of up to 2,000 pounds each, on hold this month. The Biden administration, citing concern for civilian casualties in Gaza, has said it paused that bomb transfer to keep Israel from using those particular munitions in its offensive in the crowded southern Gaza city of Rafah.

The package disclosed Tuesday includes about $700 million for tank ammunition, $500 million in tactical vehicles and $60 million in mortar rounds, the congressional aides said. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an arms transfer that has not yet been made public.

There was no immediate indication of when the arms would be sent. Two congressional aides said the shipment is not part of the long-delayed foreign aid package that Congress passed and President Joe Biden signed last month. It wasn’t known if the shipment was the latest tranche from an existing arms sale or something new.

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