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Politics

US Military Ships are Working to Build a Pier for Gaza Aid. It’s Going to Cost at Least $320 Million

JERUSALEM (AP) — A U.S. Navy ship and several Army vessels involved in an American-led effort to bring more aid into the besieged Gaza Strip are offshore of the enclave and building out a floating platform for the operation that the Pentagon has said will cost at least $320 million.

Sabrina Singh, Pentagon spokeswoman, told reporters the cost is a rough estimate for the project and includes the transportation of the equipment and pier sections from the United States to the coast of Gaza, as well as the construction and aid delivery operations.

Satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press on Tuesday show the USNS Roy P. Benavidez about 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) from the port on shore, where the base of operations for the project is being built by the Israeli military. The USAV General Frank S. Besson Jr., an Army logistics vessel, and several other Army boats are with the Benavidez and working on the construction of what the military calls the Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore, or JLOTS, system.

Satellite images from Sunday and Monday by Planet Labs PBC showed pieces of the floating pier in the Mediterranean Sea, alongside the Benavidez. Measurements of the vessel match known features of the Benavidez, a Bob Hope-class vehicle cargo ship operated by the Military Sealift Command.

A U.S. military official confirmed late last week that the Benavidez had begun construction and that it was far enough off shore to ensure that the troops building the platform would be safe. Singh said on Monday that next will come the construction of the causeway, which will then be anchored to the beach.

The U.S. military’s Central Command early Tuesday published images of the floating pier’s construction online, after the AP’s publication of the satellite photos.

This undated photo released early Tuesday, April 30, 2024, by the U.S. military’s Central Command shows construction off a floating pier in the Mediterranean Sea off the Gaza Strip. A U.S. Navy ship involved in the American-led effort to bring more aid into the besieged Gaza Strip is off shore from the enclave, slowly building out a floating platform for the operation, satellite photos analyzed Monday, April 29, 2024, by The Associated Press show. (U.S. military’s Central Command via AP)

“The pier will support USAID and humanitarian partners to receive and deliver humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza,” the statement on the social platform X said.

U.S. and Israeli officials have said they hope to have the floating pier in place, the causeway attached to the shore and operations underway by early May. The Pentagon said on Monday the operation will cost at least $320 million. The cost was first reported by Reuters.

Under the plan by the U.S. military, aid will be loaded onto commercial ships in Cyprus to sail to the floating platform now under construction off Gaza. The pallets will be loaded onto trucks, which will be loaded onto smaller ships that will travel to a metal, floating two-lane causeway. The 550-meter (1,800-foot) causeway will be attached to the shore by the Israeli Defense Forces.

The U.S. military official said an American Army engineering unit has teamed with an Israeli military engineering unit in recent weeks to practice the installation of the causeway, training on an Israeli beach just up the coast.

The new port sits southwest of Gaza City and a bit north of a road bisecting Gaza that the Israeli military built during the current war against Hamas. The area was the territory’s most populous before the Israeli ground offensive rolled through and pushed more than 1 million people south toward the city of Rafah on the border with Egypt.

Now Israeli military positions are on either side of the port, which initially had been built — as part of an effort led by World Central Kitchen — out of the rubble of buildings leveled by Israel. That effort halted after an Israeli airstrike killed seven World Central Kitchen aid workers on April 1 as they traveled in clearly marked vehicles on a delivery mission authorized by Israel. The organization says it is resuming its work in Gaza.

Aid has been slow to get into Gaza, with long backups of trucks awaiting Israeli inspections. The U.S. and other nations also have used air drops to send food into Gaza. The U.S. military official said deliveries on the sea route initially will total about 90 trucks a day and could quickly increase to about 150 trucks daily.

Aid organizations have said several hundred such trucks are needed to enter Gaza every day.

In the aftermath of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, which killed 1,200 people and saw 250 others taken hostage, Israel cut off or heavily restricted food, water, medicine, electricity and other aid from entering the Gaza Strip. Under pressure from the U.S. and others, Israel says the situation is improving, though United Nations agencies have said much more aid needs to enter.

Gaza, slightly more than twice the size of the city of Washington and home to 2.3 million people, has found itself on the brink of famine. More than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the fighting began, local health authorities say.

On Sunday, Israeli military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said the amount of aid going into Gaza would continue to scale up.

“This temporary pier will provide a ship-to-shore distribution system that will further increase the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza,” he said in a statement.

However, high-ranking Hamas political official Khalil al-Hayya told the AP last week that the group would consider Israeli forces — or forces from any other country — stationed by the pier to guard it as “an occupying force and aggression,” and that the militant group would resist it.

On Wednesday, a mortar attack targeted the port site, though no one was hurt.

___
By JON GAMBRELL Associated Press

Associated Press writers Tara Copp and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.

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