US military sets up temporary aid dock in Gaza

The US military anchored a temporary pier on Gaza's coast on Thursday, creating an entry point for humanitarian aid for the enclave, where the flow of supplies across land borders has largely stopped since Israel began its his foray into Rafah last week.

The aid will be loaded onto trucks that will begin disembarking “in the coming days,” US Central Command said in a statement Thursday morning. US officials said last week that the floating dock and causeway had been completed, but that weather conditions had delayed their installation.

Israel has long opposed a seaport for Gaza, saying it would pose a security threat. As the humanitarian crisis in the territory has soared in recent months, with acute shortages of food, medicine and other essentials, the U.S. military in March announced a plan to build a temporary dock to allow aid shipments across the Mediterranean Sea.

An American ship loaded with humanitarian aid, the Sagamore, left for Gaza from Cyprus last week, and the supplies were loaded onto a smaller vessel that was waiting for the dock to be installed. The United Nations will receive the aid and oversee its distribution in Gaza, according to Central Command, which said no American troops will set foot in the territory.

Over the next two days, U.S. military and aid groups will aim to load three to five trucks from the dock and send them to Gaza as a test of the process established by the Pentagon, said Gen. Charles Q. Brown, chairman of the heads of state major relatives.

“It will probably take another 24 hours to make sure everything is ready,” he told reporters Thursday aboard a flight to Brussels, where he was attending a NATO meeting. “We have our protection force in place, we have contract truckers on the other side, and there is fuel for those truckers too.”

The Pentagon hopes the dock operation will bring enough aid for about 90 trucks a day, a number that will increase to 150 trucks when the system reaches full operational capacity, officials say.

In a briefing on Thursday, an Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Nadav Shoshani, said support for the temporary pier project was a “top priority.” He said the Israeli Navy and the 99th Division are supporting the effort by sea and land, respectively.

Aid groups say the devastation in Gaza after seven months of Israeli bombardment, strict Israeli inspections and restrictions on border crossings are limiting the amount of aid that can enter Gaza. Israel says the restrictions are necessary to ensure that neither weapons nor supplies end up in the hands of Hamas.

In a briefing Wednesday, Dan Dieckhaus, director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, stressed that the maritime aid corridor is intended to complement deliveries through land crossings, not replace them.

The Pentagon said the pier could help deliver up to two million meals a day.

An aid group, World Central Kitchen, built a makeshift pier in mid-March to deliver aid by sea to Gaza for the first time in nearly two decades. But those efforts came to an abrupt end in early April, after seven of the group's workers were killed in an Israeli strike.

Rawan Sheikh Ahmad AND Helene Cooper contributed to the reporting.

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