US Gaza aid pier to be operational within days

Ships will set sail from Cyprus to the floating platform a few kilometers off the Gazan shore, before being loaded onto smaller vessels.

By Mike Wagenheim, JNS

A floating pier constructed off the Gaza coast by the U.S. Army is set to become operational “in the coming days,” according to Dan Dieckhaus, response director for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Dieckhaus said humanitarian aid currently on the other end of the maritime corridor, in Cyprus, was being inspected and loaded

Ships will set sail from Cyprus to the floating platform a few kilometers off the Gazan shore, before being loaded onto smaller vessels. Trucks will await these ships along a floating causeway and transport the aid to land, where the World Food Programme and other United Nations entities will handle distribution.

But Dieckhaus said he remains concerned about what he intimated was slow progress on improved deconfliction measures with the Israel Defense Forces to ensure humanitarian aid workers don’t come under attack.

The deaths of seven staffers of the World Central Kitchen in a mistaken Israeli strike in Gaza last month brought tensions between Washington and Jerusalem to a boiling point.

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“We have and will continue to press Israel to create the conditions to ensure the safety of humanitarian actors and activities as we call on all parties in this conflict to ensure the safety and security of humanitarian actors,” said Dieckhaus.

There is also the matter of keeping the pier itself safe. Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, U.S. Central Command deputy commander, insisted on Wednesday that “the U.S. military’s only role in this effort is to provide our unique logistics capability to enable the delivery of lifesaving humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza by USAID and our international partners.”

Over the last few weeks, Cooper said, the United States and Israel had “developed an integrated security plan to protect all the personnel who are working” on and around the pier.

A Hamas mortar attack on the pier last month forced U.N. staff on site to take cover. No injuries were reported.

“We are confident in the ability of this security arrangement to protect those involved,” Cooper said, noting he couldn’t talk specifics.

According to Cooper, two coordination cells—one each in Israel and Cyprus—are in place, and Israel has been “working side by side” with the USAID team, the Cypriots and the United Nations.

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“The Israeli government has been highly supportive of this overall effort,” said Cooper.

Dieckhaus said processes are in place to ensure aid reaches its intended target and stays out of the hands of terror groups. That includes “pre-discussions with communities in which they plan to distribute assistance to ensure people are accurately identified,” along with “post-distribution monitoring via phone call or in-person surveys to understand did the assistance actually reach and was kept by those in need.”

However, Dieckhaus said, “I think we would not deny that there is heightened risk in Gaza for a variety of reasons,” adding that the operation is understood to be “a constant risk.”

“We’ll continue to monitor it and make adjustments, and our partners and other humanitarian actors will continue to make adjustments as the risk profile requires,” he added.