U.S. Army Begins Building Floating Aid Pier off Gaza

Army engineers on Thursday began construction of a floating pier and causeway for humanitarian aid off the coast of Gaza, which, when completed, could help relief workers deliver as many as two million meals a day for the enclave’s residents, Defense Department officials said.

The construction on the “initial stages of the temporary pier and causeway at sea” means that the project’s timing is in line with what Pentagon officials had predicted, Maj. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder, the Defense Department’s press secretary, said. The construction is meant to allow humanitarian aid to bypass Israeli restrictions on land convoys into the besieged strip.

General Ryder said that defense officials expected the project, ordered up by President Biden early last month, to be completed early next month. The facility is meant to include an offshore platform to transfer aid from ships, and a floating pier to bring the aid to shore.

Aid organizations have welcomed the plan, which will be an addition to the airdrops of humanitarian supplies that the U.S. military has been conducting over Gaza. But aid workers say, and defense officials have acknowledged, that the maritime project is not an adequate substitute for land convoys. Such aid convoys fell sharply when the war began more than six months ago and have only partly recovered.

Some U.S. military officials have also privately expressed security concerns about the project, and General Ryder said that the military was looking into a mortar attack on Wednesday that caused minimal damage in the area where some pier work is supposed to be done. However, he said, U.S. forces had not started moving anything into the area at the time of the mortar attacks.

The floating pier is being built alongside an Army ship off the Gaza coast. Army ships are large, lumbering vessels, so they have armed escorts, particularly as they get within range of Gaza’s coast, defense officials have said.

The United Nations says famine is likely to set in within Gaza by the end of May.

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 highlighted the difficulty of distributing aid inside Gaza. Israeli officials have denied that they are hampering the flow of aid, saying the United Nations and aid groups are responsible for any backlogs.

Senior Biden administration and military officials detailed a complex plan in a Pentagon call with reporters on Thursday afternoon, explaining how the pier and causeway are being put together, and how it is supposed to work. Army engineers are constructing the facility aboard Navy ships in the eastern Mediterranean. One official said that the “at-sea assembly of key pieces” of the pier began on Thursday.

Biden officials are insistent that the Pentagon can carry out aid deliveries through the floating pier without putting American boots on the ground in Gaza. Officials described a complicated shuttle system, through which aid would be loaded onto Navy ships in Cyprus and transported to a causeway — a floating platform — at sea.

The Pentagon’s military acronym for the project is J-Lots, for Joint Logistics Over the Shore.

The causeway at sea is different from the floating pier where the aid will be offloaded into Gaza. An engineering unit with the Israeli military will anchor the floating pier to the Gaza shore, a senior military official told reporters in the Pentagon call.

Shuttle boats run by aid organizations, the United Nations or other countries are then expected to transport the aid to the floating pier, where it is to be loaded onto trucks driven by “a third party,” the official said. He declined to identify the third party.

The official said that Israel was dedicating a brigade to provide security for the American troops and aid workers working on the pier.

The operation is expected to bring in enough aid for around 90 trucks a day, a number that will increase to 150 trucks a day when the system reaches full operating capacity, the official said.

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