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regular-article-logo Wednesday, 12 June 2024

The US-built pier in Gaza broke apart. Here's how we got here and what might be next

The Biden administration has said from the start that the pier wasn't meant to be a total solution and that any amount of aid helps

AP Washington Published 30.05.24, 05:40 PM
Temporary pier built by US in Gaza broke apart

Temporary pier built by US in Gaza broke apart X/@amreal1zain

A string of security, logistical and weather problems has battered the plan to deliver desperately needed humanitarian aid to Gaza through a US military-built pier.

Broken apart by strong winds and heavy seas just over a week after it became operational, the project faces criticism that it hasn't lived up to its initial billing or its USD 320 million price tag.

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US officials say, however, that the steel causeway connected to the beach in Gaza and the floating pier are being repaired and reassembled at a port in southern Israel, then will be reinstalled and working again next week.

While early Pentagon estimates suggested the pier could deliver up to 150 truckloads of aid a day when in full operation, that has yet to happen. Bad weather has hampered progress getting aid into Gaza from the pier, while the Israeli offensive in the southern city of Rafah has made it difficult, if not impossible at times, to get aid into the region by land routes.

Aid groups have had mixed reactions — both welcoming any amount of aid for starving Palestinians besieged by the nearly eight-month-old Israel-Hamas war and decrying the pier as a distraction that took pressure off Israel to open more border crossings, which are far more productive.

It's “a side-show,” said Bob Kitchen, a top official of the International Rescue Committee.

The Biden administration has said from the start that the pier wasn't meant to be a total solution and that any amount of aid helps.

“Nobody said at the outset that it was going to be a panacea for all the humanitarian assistance problems that still exist in Gaza,” national security spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday. “I think sometimes there's an expectation of the US military — because they're so good — that everything that they touch is just going to turn to gold in an instant."

“We knew going in that this was going to be tough stuff,” he added. "And it has proven to be tough stuff.”

Before the war, Gaza was getting about 500 truckloads of aid on average every day. The United States Agency for International Development says it needs a steady flow of 600 trucks a day to ease the struggle for food and bring people back from the brink of famine.

The aid brought through the pier was enough to feed thousands for a month, but UN data shows it barely made a dent in the overall need of Gaza's 2.3 million people.

Here's a look at the timeline of the pier, the problems it faced and what may come next:

MARCH: ANNOUNCEMENT AND PREP

MARCH 7: President Joe Biden announces his plan for the US military to build a pier during his State of the Union address.

“Tonight, I'm directing the US military to lead an emergency mission to establish a temporary pier in the Mediterranean on the coast of Gaza that can receive large shipments carrying food, water, medicine and temporary shelters,” he said.

But even in those first few moments, he noted the pier would increase the amount of humanitarian aid getting into Gaza but that Israel “must do its part” and let more aid in.

MARCH 8: Maj Gen Pat Ryder, Pentagon spokesman, tells reporters it will take “up to 60 days” to deploy the forces and build the project.

MARCH 12: Four US Army boats loaded with tons of equipment and steel pier segments leave Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia and head to the Atlantic Ocean for what is expected to be a monthlong voyage to Gaza.

The brigade's commander, Army Col Sam Miller, warns that the transit and construction will be heavily dependent on the weather and any high seas they encounter.

LATE MARCH: US Army vessels hit high seas and rough weather as they cross the Atlantic, slowing their pace.

APRIL: CONSTRUCTION AND HOPE

APRIL 1: Seven World Central Kitchen aid workers are killed in an Israeli airstrike as they travel in clearly marked vehicles on a delivery mission authorized by Israel.

The strike fuels ongoing worries about security for relief workers and prompts aid agencies to pause delivery of humanitarian assistance in Gaza.

APRIL 19: US officials confirm that the UN World Food Program has agreed to help deliver aid brought to Gaza via the maritime route once construction is done.

APRIL 25: Major construction of the port facility on the shore near Gaza City begins to take shape. The onshore site is where aid from the causeway will be delivered and given to aid agencies.

APRIL 30: Satellite photos show the US Navy ship USNS Roy P Benavidez and Army vessels working on assembling the pier and causeway about 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) from the port on shore.

MAY: THE PIER OPENS … THEN CLOSES

MAY 9: The US vessel Sagamore is the first ship loaded with aid to leave Cyprus and head toward Gaza and ultimately the pier. An elaborate security and inspection station has been built in Cyprus to screen the aid coming from a number of countries.

MAY 16: Well past the 60-day target time, the construction and assembly of the pier off the Gaza coast and the causeway attached to the shoreline are finished after more than a week of weather and other delays.

MAY 17: The first trucks carrying aid for the Gaza Strip roll down the newly built pier and into the secure area on shore, where they will be unloaded and the cargo distributed to aid agencies for delivery by truck into Gaza.

May 18: Crowds of desperate Palestinians overrun a convoy of aid trucks coming from the pier, stripping the cargo from 11 of the 16 vehicles before they reach a UN warehouse for distribution.

May 19-20: The first food from the pier — a limited number of high-nutrition biscuits — reaches people in need in central Gaza, according to the World Food Program.

Aid organizations suspend deliveries from the pier for two days while the US works with Israel to open alternate land routes from the pier and improve security.

MAY 24: So far, a bit more than 1,000 metric tons of aid has been delivered to Gaza via the US-built pier, and USAID later says all of it has been distributed within Gaza.

MAY 25: High winds and heavy seas damage the pier and cause four US Army vessels operating there to become beached, injuring three service members, including one who is in critical condition.

Two vessels went aground in Gaza near the base of the pier and two went aground near Ashkelon in Israel.

MAY 28: Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh says large portions of the causeway are being pulled from the beach and moved to an Israeli port for repairs. The base of the causeway remains at the Gaza shore.

She also says that aid in Cyprus is being loaded onto vessels and will be ready to unload onto the pier once it is back in place.

MAY 29: Two of the Army vessels that ran aground in the bad weather are now back at sea and the other two near the pier are being freed, with the aid of the Israeli navy.

WHAT'S NEXT?

In the coming days, the sections of the causeway will be put back together, and by the middle of next week will be moved back to the Gaza shore, where the causeway will once again be attached to the beach, the Pentagon says.

“When we are able to re-anchor the pier back in, you'll be able to see that aid flow off in a pretty steady stream," Singh said Tuesday. "We're going to continue to operate this temporary pier for as long as we can.”

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