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US on track to deliver aid to Gaza from sea by early May, officials say

The U.S. is on track to start delivering critical humanitarian aid into Gaza through a maritime corridor by early May and more details of the plan have been worked out, officials said.

A senior military official said in a press call that construction and assembly of the pier in the Mediterranean Sea began Thursday off the coast of Gaza.

Once it’s completed, the pier will initially be able to facilitate 90 trucks a day but is expected to eventually reach up to 150 trucks daily.

About 1,000 U.S. Army and Navy soldiers and sailors will handle the mission with the pier, called a Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore (JLOTS) operation, the official added.

U.S. servicemembers will be living out of a British ship called the Cardigan Bay and the official stressed there will be no American boots on the ground in Gaza. The military is also coordinating closely with Israel to create a robust security plan to ensure safety at the pier, though the head of U.S. Central Command must sign off on the mission before it goes forward.

“We believe we have developed a comprehensive integrated security plan with the Israeli Defense Forces to address force protection of American troops and everything is in place: the people, procedures, ships and coordination protocols,” the official said.

The mission will also be supported by the United States Agency for International Development, the World Food Programme and the United Nations, and various international humanitarian aid groups.

A U.S. administration official said the pier was critical because Gaza is suffering from a severe humanitarian crisis.

“The construction of the maritime corridor and the JLOTS is so critical to get additional assistance in at a time that we need to surge everything in,” the official said. “So this is a humanitarian initiative with a humanitarian purpose.”

Officials also outlined a more detailed version of the plan for the first time. Humanitarian aid will come on pallets from the island of Cyprus to a large floating dock miles off the coast of Gaza after transport from commercial ships.

At the dock, smaller Army boats called logistic support vessels that can carry up to 20 trucks with an attachment will transport the cargo to a pier anchored to Gaza’s shore. There, the trucks will drive off the dock and into Gaza for distribution in a secure area.

“These trucks repeat the process over and over in a closed loop,” the senior military official said.

The U.S. military has two command and control cells based in Cyprus and Israel that will help coordinate the mission, the official added.

President Biden first announced the construction of a pier off the coast of Gaza in March as the humanitarian situation continued to deteriorate in the coastal strip.

The United Nations has warned of a coming famine unless more aid gets into Gaza, where more than 34,000 Palestinians have died as Israel fights a war against militant group Hamas.

The situation is expected to grow significantly worse once Israel launches an expected invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians are sheltering.

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