U.S. military aid ship heads to Gaza after Biden promises to build pier


The U.S. Army has dispatched a ship to send humanitarian aid to Gaza, Central Command (CENTCOM) said on Sunday, days after President Joe Biden vowed to build a temporary pier to supply the besieged enclave.

The General Frank S. Besson left Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia “less than 36 hours after President Biden announced the U.S. would provide humanitarian assistance to Gaza by sea,” CENTCOM said in a statement.

The logistics support vessel is “carrying the first equipment to establish a temporary pier to deliver vital humanitarian supplies,” it said.

Biden’s announcement in his State of the Union address on Thursday followed UN warnings of widespread famine among Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians, five months after Israel launched its offensive in the narrow strip in response to an attack by Hamas militants that killed 1,200 people.

The Health Ministry in Gaza said on Sunday that at least 31,045 Palestinians have been killed since the war began. 

Gaza has no port infrastructure. The U.S. initially plans to use Cyprus, which is offering a process for screening cargoes that will include Israel officials, removing the need for security checks in Gaza.

Children wait, some with empty pans in their hands, to receive food cooked by a charity kitchen amid food shortages in Rafah, Gaza.
Palestinian children wait to receive food cooked by a charity kitchen amid shortages of food supplies in Rafah on Feb. 20. (Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

Most of Gaza’s people are now internally displaced and there are severe bottlenecks in aid deliveries at land border checkpoints.

Gaza has been under an Israeli navy blockade since 2007, when Hamas took control of the enclave. There have been few direct sea arrivals since then.

The daily number of aid trucks entering Gaza by land over the past five months has been far below the 500 that entered before the war because of Israeli restrictions and security issues.

Barge in Cyprus to carry food to Gaza

Meanwhile, in Cyprus, charity workers loaded relief supplies bound for Gaza on to a barge on Saturday as part of an international effort to launch a maritime corridor to the Palestinian population.

The European Commission had said a maritime aid corridor between Cyprus and Gaza could start operating as early as this weekend in a pilot project run by an international charity and financed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

WATCH | Skepticism among Palestinians over U.S. aid-by-sea plan: 

Skepticism among Palestinians over U.S. aid-by-sea plan

There is skepticism from some Palestinians over U.S. plans to get more aid into Gaza by sea as hopes fade for a ceasefire before Ramadan.

The Open Arms, a salvage vessel owned by a Spanish NGO and more accustomed to rescuing migrants at sea, was moored at a port in the coastal Cyprus town of Larnaca, roughly 340 kilometres northwest of Gaza.

It will tow a barge with 180 tonnes of food sourced by charity World Central Kitchen (WCK) and mostly funded by the UAE. The timing of its departure from Cyprus was unclear.

The new push for getting more aid in came on the eve of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which follows a lunar calendar and could start as early as Sunday evening, depending on the sighting of a crescent moon.

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