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First Aid Shipment Crosses Gaza Pier   05/17 06:14

   Trucks carrying badly needed aid for the Gaza Strip rolled across a newly 
built U.S. pier and into the besieged enclave for the first time Friday as 
Israeli restrictions on border crossings and heavy fighting hindered the 
delivery of food and other supplies.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Trucks carrying badly needed aid for the Gaza Strip 
rolled across a newly built U.S. pier and into the besieged enclave for the 
first time Friday as Israeli restrictions on border crossings and heavy 
fighting hindered the delivery of food and other supplies.

   The shipment is the first in an operation that American military officials 
anticipate could scale up to 150 truckloads a day, all while Israel presses in 
on the southern city of Rafah in its 7-month offensive against Hamas.

   But the U.S. and aid groups warn that the floating pier project is not a 
substitute for land deliveries that could bring in all the food, water and fuel 
needed in Gaza. Before the war, more than 500 truckloads entered the territory 
on an average day.

   The operation's success also remains tenuous because of the risk of militant 
attack, logistical hurdles and a growing shortage of fuel for the trucks to run 
due to the Israeli blockade of Gaza since Hamas' Oct. 7 attack. Militants 
killed 1,200 people and took 250 others hostage in that assault on southern 
Israel. The Israeli offensive since has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians in 
Gaza, local health officials say, while hundreds more have been killed in the 
West Bank.

   Aid agencies say they are running out of food in southern Gaza and fuel is 
dwindling, while the U.S. Agency for International Development and the World 
Food Program say famine has already taken hold in Gaza's north.

   Troops finished installing the floating pier on Thursday, and the U.S. 
military's Central Command said the first aid crossed into Gaza at 9 a.m. 
Friday. It said no American troops went ashore in the operation.

   "This is an ongoing, multinational effort to deliver additional aid to 
Palestinian civilians in Gaza via a maritime corridor that is entirely 
humanitarian in nature, and will involve aid commodities donated by a number of 
countries and humanitarian organizations," the command said.

   The Pentagon said no backups were expected in the distribution process, 
which is being coordinated by the United Nations.

   The U.N. humanitarian aid coordinating agency said the start of the 
operation was welcome but not a replacement for deliveries by land.

   "I think everyone in the operation has said it: Any and all aid into Gaza is 
welcome by any route," spokesperson Jens Laerke, of the Office for the 
Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told journalists in Geneva on Friday. 
"However, getting aid to people they need into and across Gaza cannot and 
should not depend on a floating dock far from where needs are most acute."

   The U.N. earlier said fuel deliveries brought through land routes have all 
but stopped and that would make it extremely difficult to bring the aid to 
Gaza's people.

   "It doesn't matter how the aid comes, whether it's by sea or whether by 
land, without fuel, aid won't get to the people," U.N. deputy spokesperson 
Farhan Haq said.

   Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh said the issue of fuel deliveries comes 
up in all U.S. conversations with the Israelis. She also said the plan is to 
begin slowly with the sea route and ramp up the truck deliveries over time as 
they work the kinks out of the system.

   Israel fears Hamas will use fuel in the war, but it asserts it places no 
limits on the entry of humanitarian aid and blames the U.N. for delays in 
distributing goods entering Gaza. Under pressure from the U.S., Israel has 
opened a pair of crossings to deliver aid into the territory's hard-hit north 
in recent weeks.

   It has said that a series of Hamas attacks on the main crossing, Kerem 
Shalom, have disrupted the flow of goods. The U.N. says fighting, Israeli fire 
and chaotic security conditions have hindered delivery. There have also been 
violent protests by Israelis that disrupted aid shipments.

   Israel recently seized the key Rafah border crossing in its push against 
Hamas around that city on the Egyptian border, raising fears about civilians' 
safety while also cutting off the main entry for aid into the Gaza Strip.

   U.S. President Joe Biden ordered the pier project, expected to cost $320 
million. The boatloads of aid will be deposited at a port facility built by the 
Israelis just southwest of Gaza City and then distributed by aid groups.

   U.S. officials said the initial shipment totaled as much as 500 tons of aid. 
The U.S. has closely coordinated with Israel on how to protect the ships and 
personnel working on the beach.

   But there are still questions about the safety of aid workers who distribute 
the food, said Sonali Korde, assistant to the administrator of USAID's Bureau 
for Humanitarian Assistance, which is helping with logistics.

   "There is a very insecure operating environment," and aid groups are still 
struggling to get clearance for their planned movements in Gaza, Korde said.

   That concern was highlighted last month when Israeli strike killed seven 
relief workers from World Central Kitchen whose trip had been coordinated with 
Israeli officials. The group had also brought aid in by sea.

   Pentagon officials have made it clear that security conditions will be 
monitored closely and could prompt a shutdown of the maritime route, even if 
just temporarily. Navy Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, a deputy commander at the U.S. 
military's Central Command, told reporters Thursday that "we are confident in 
the ability of this security arrangement to protect those involved."

   Already, the site has been targeted by mortar fire during its construction, 
and Hamas has threatened to target any foreign forces who "occupy" the Gaza 
Strip.

   Biden has made it clear that there will be no U.S. forces on the ground in 
Gaza, so third-country contractors will drive the trucks onto the shore.

   Israeli forces are in charge of security on shore, but there are also two 
U.S. Navy warships nearby that can protect U.S. troops and others.

   The aid for the sea route is collected and inspected in Cyprus, then loaded 
onto ships and taken about 200 miles (320 kilometers) to the large floating 
pier off the Gaza coast. There, the pallets are transferred onto the trucks 
that then drive onto the Army boats, which will shuttle the trucks from the 
pier to a floating causeway anchored to the beach. Once the trucks drop off the 
aid, they return to the boats.

 
 
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