May 22, 2024
Distribution of humanitarian aid from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, in Rafah, Gaza, earlier this week.Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Biden administration’s floating pier and causeway for humanitarian aid could, when completed, help deliver as many as two million meals a day for residents of Gaza, but the project will take at least a month and maybe two to complete, the Pentagon said on Friday.

The details for the pier and causeway plan, President Biden’s latest idea to get around Israel’s blocking of aid deliveries via all but two land crossings, were outlined by the Pentagon press secretary, Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, in a news conference on Friday.

Aid organizations have welcomed the plan, which was announced on Thursday, days after the U.S. military began airdropping supplies into Gaza. But aid workers say that the maritime project is not ambitious enough to alleviate the humanitarian disaster unfolding as Israel continues to bombard the Gaza Strip.

General Ryder said that one of the main military units involved in the construction of the floating pier for Gaza would be the Army’s 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary), out of Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., near Norfolk. Some 1,000 American service members, he said, will work to complete the pier and causeway.

The floating pier, General Ryder said, would be built and assembled alongside an Army ship off the Gaza coast. Army ships are large, lumbering vessels, so they will need armed escorts, particularly as they get within range of Gaza’s coast, Defense Department officials said, and officials are working through how to ensure their protection as the pier is built.

Describing the project, a U.S. Army official said that, typically, a large vessel would sit off shore of the desired location, and a “Roll-on-Roll-off Discharge Facility” — a big floating dock — would be constructed next to the ship to serve as a holding area. When any cargo or equipment is driven or placed onto the floating dock, it can then be loaded onto smaller Navy boats and moved toward a temporary causeway anchored onshore.

On Thursday, Sigrid Kaag, the U.N. humanitarian and reconstruction coordinator for Gaza, welcomed the Biden announcement.

But speaking with reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council, she added, “At the same time I cannot but repeat: Air and sea is not a substitute for land and nobody says otherwise.”

Since Israel began its bombardment and invasion of Gaza, in response to the Hamas-led attack of Oct. 7, only two land crossings into the territory have opened: One at Rafah, a Gazan city on the southern border with Egypt, and one at Kerem Shalom, on the border with Israel.

Aid workers have described bottlenecks for aid at border crossings because of lengthy inspections of trucks, limited crossing hours and protests by Israelis, and they have also highlighted the difficulty of distributing aid inside Gaza. Israeli officials have denied they are hampering the flow of aid, saying the United Nations and aid groups are responsible for any backlogs.

On Friday, General Ryder said that U.S. officials were “working with ally and partner nations,” as well as the United Nations and aid groups, to coordinate security and distribution of aid from the floating pier and causeway. He emphasized that “there will be no U.S. forces on the ground in Gaza.”

He also acknowledged that neither the airdrops nor the floating pier were as effective as sending aid by land would be.

“We want to see the amount of aid going via land increase significantly,” General Ryder said. “We understand that is the most viable way to get aid in.”

But, he added, “We’re not going to wait around.”

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