Biden Ordering US Military to Build Port in Gaza to Facilitate Aid

  • 2024-03-08 01:25:00

President Joe Biden will use his State of the Union address late Thursday to announce that he has directed the U.S. military to build a port in Gaza to facilitate delivery of critically needed aid for Palestinians displaced and suffering amid Israeli’s military campaign against Hamas.

The main feature of this port is a temporary pier which will provide capacity for hundreds of additional truckloads of assistance each day, with initial shipments coming via Cyprus with support of the U.S. military and a coalition of partners and allies, said a senior administration official briefing reporters Thursday.

“We will coordinate with the Israelis on the security requirements on land and work with the U.N. and humanitarian NGOs on the distribution of assistance within Gaza,” the official said. “This new significant capability will take a number of weeks to plan and execute. The forces that will be required to complete this mission are either already in the region or will begin to move there soon.”

The official said that there will be no American boots on the ground in Gaza. Instead, the U.S. military will employ its “unique capabilities” to establish the facilities from offshore.

“The concept that's been planned involves the presence of U.S. military personnel on military vessels offshore but does not require U.S. military personnel to go ashore to install the pier or [a] causeway facility that will allow the transportation of humanitarian assistance ashore,” said a senior defense official in the same press briefing.

Defense officials told VOA the most likely option to build a port in Gaza would be to use the Army's Joint Logistics Over the Shore, or JLOTS. Described by one official as "the Army's little unicorn," JLOTS allows Army teams to carry floating pier pieces by ship, which are pieced together in the water.

Building a port and delivering aid via sea is “a mammoth step” in expanding humanitarian aid delivery channels and could have “a transformative impact,” said Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib, an analyst from Gaza.

It signals Biden’s seriousness about ending the humanitarian catastrophe, Alkhatib told VOA, and is “a historic development” because it will be the first time in a contemporary context that Gaza will have a functioning seaport.

“The maritime corridor option bypasses complete reliance on Israel and Egypt to bring in aid, creating a new path that the regional and international players can use to send in critical supplies,” he said.

It’s unclear whether the plan will be enough to appease progressive Democrats, and Arab and Muslim Americans outraged by Biden’s unconditional support of Israel.

Senator Bernie Sanders, a progressive Democrat, welcomed the step but underscored what he said was the reason for this “extraordinary step.”

“Despite months of increasingly urgent requests from the very highest officials in the U.S. government, Israeli Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu and his extreme, right-wing government have refused to let in sufficient humanitarian aid,” he said in a statement.

“That has led to this incredible situation, in which a U.S. ally is using U.S. weapons and equipment to block the delivery of U.S. humanitarian aid. And now, American taxpayers have to pay even more to build a port to get aid into starving people, because Israel won’t let it be driven safely and efficiently across the border.”

U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said he wasn't aware of any coordination yet for this project. “Our preference continues to be larger access by road,” he said>.

Airdrop aid

The United States has made three airdrops of humanitarian aid using military planes and parachutes, following Biden’s order last week in joining other countries that have delivered aid in such a manner. He noted the “tragic and alarming event in North Gaza” where Israeli troops opened fire while a crowd of Palestinians was scrambling to get food from an aid convoy. More than 100 people died in the chaos.

“People are so desperate that – innocent people got caught in terrible war, unable to feed their families, and you saw the response when they tried to get aid,” Biden said in a rare rebuke to Israel.

There has been mounting frustration within the administration over Israel’s insistence on inspections that have slowed the delivery of aid, even as U.N. experts warned that the situation in Gaza is dire and close to famine.

“We are not waiting on the Israelis. This is a moment for American leadership, and we are building a coalition of countries to address this urgent need,” said a second senior administration official, also briefing reporters.

The officials said Biden will also use his address to Congress to spotlight the plight of Israeli hostages held by Hamas, and push for a temporary cease-fire deal before the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan which begins this weekend. The onus of the agreement, the administration says, is in the hands of the U.S.-designated terror group.