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Ship that will build temporary pier in Gaza departs its US base

Critics of pier plan for aid delivery by sea demand Israel open land crossings as Gaza humanitarian crisis deteriorates.

A United States military ship carrying equipment to build a temporary pier off the coast of Gaza to deliver humanitarian supplies – and get around Israeli obstruction of aid operations as it continues pounding the Gaza Strip – has departed the US.

The General Frank S. Besson left its base in the US on Sunday, a little more than a day after US President Joe Biden’s announcement, “carrying the first equipment to establish a temporary pier to deliver vital humanitarian supplies”, the military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) said.

While the US ostensibly aims to alleviate the acute humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Biden continues to approve arms sales to Israel as it continues its assault.

Since the attack by Qassam Brigades and other Palestinian armed groups on Israeli civilians and communities on October 7, the US has approved 100 arms sales to Israel to carry out its retaliatory war in Gaza, which has killed more than 30,000 people – mostly women and children.

Just last month, the US was preparing to give Israel about 1,000 MK-82 500-pound (227kg) bombs and 1,000 KMU-572 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs) that turn unguided ammunitions into precision-guided bombs.

The US has also bypassed Congressional approval twice to accelerate arms to Israel, even as Israel stands accused of possibly committing genocide in the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Israel refuses to facilitate the delivery of vital food aid to starving Palestinians in Gaza and has been accused of shooting at people seeking aid. The solution offered by the US to this has been to plan a pier off the coast of Gaza.

“If the US was serious [about delivering aid], it would have pressured Israel into opening the land crossings and allowing aid and relief in as well as stopping the onslaught. We have not heard Biden call for a stopping of the war or even a ceasefire,” Mohammed al-Masri, from the Palestinian Center for Research and Strategic Studies, told Al Jazeera.

Biden said in his State of the Union speech on Thursday that he was directing the military to set up a pier off Gaza’s Mediterranean coast to receive ships carrying food, water, medicine and temporary shelters as Gaza has no functioning port infrastructure.

Construction of the pier and causeway connecting it to land will take as long as 60 days and require about 1,000 US troops, Pentagon Press Secretary Patrick Ryder said on Friday. The soldiers will remain offshore.

The announcement followed warnings from the United Nations of widespread famine among Gaza’s 2.3 million people five months after Israel launched its offensive.

The US plans to use Cyprus, which has offered a process to screen the cargo that would include Israeli officials, doing away with the need for security checks in Gaza.

“What is important for the Palestinians is that Biden pressures Israel, because he is a partner in the ongoing war. What prompted him to establish this port is his precarious situation among US voters and the opinion polls showing he is on shaky ground with minorities,” Al-Masri said.

Land crossings remain the best option

Separately, a ship carrying 200 tonnes of humanitarian aid for Gaza was preparing to leave Cyprus along a maritime corridor the European Union hopes will open by Sunday.

Sigrid Kaag, the UN senior humanitarian and reconstruction coordinator for Gaza, has said air and sea deliveries will not make up for a shortage of supply routes on land.

Avril Benoit, executive director of the US arm of the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF), said the US plan is a “glaring distraction from the real problem: Israel’s indiscriminate and disproportionate military campaign and punishing siege”.

The existing land crossings are faster, safer and more economical than the maritime route or airdropping aid.

Aid groups estimate that at least 1,300 trucks of humanitarian relief supplies are needed daily in Gaza.

Israel has blamed the hunger crisis on UN agencies, saying they are failing to distribute supplies piling up at Gaza border crossings.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the largest UN agency in Gaza, says Israel restricts goods and imposes cumbersome inspections that slow entry.

Al-Masri said many questions remain regarding the establishment of the port.

“If Israel invades Rafah and the border crossing closes, will this port become an exit point for Palestinians? Who will provide security to the humanitarian aid being sent to the port, and who will carry out the actual distribution? Who will manage this large relief operation?” he asked.

Al-Masri noted that Israeli forces previously attacked police in Gaza when they tried to secure relief distribution. “And they will not allow the Palestinian Authority to have a role, so who will it be?”

Since 1967, Israel has exercised full control of Gaza’s coastline and territorial waters, blocking ships from reaching the Strip.

Since 2007, Israel has shut almost all of Gaza’s border crossings, and its port has been under Israeli naval blockade, making it the only seaport in the Mediterranean closed to shipping.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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