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A US-led effort to bring aid to Gaza by sea is moving forward. But big concerns remain

JERUSALEM (AP) — Construction of a new port in Gaza and an offshore pier built by the U.S. military are underway, but the complex plan to bring more food desperately needed to Palestinian civilians is still mired in fears over security and how humanitarian aid will be delivered.

The Israeli-developed port, for example, has already been attacked by mortar fire, forcing senior UN officials to take shelter this week, and there is still no solid decision on the when aid deliveries will actually begin.

As satellite photos show major port construction along the coast near Gaza City, aid groups make clear they have deep concerns about their security and reservations about how Israeli forces will manage security.

Sonali Korde, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said key agreements regarding security and management of aid deliveries were still being negotiated. These include how Israeli forces will operate in Gaza to ensure aid workers are not harmed.

“We need to see measures implemented. And the humanitarian community and the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) continue to discuss, engage, iterate and improve the system so that everyone feels safe in this very difficult operational environment,” Korde said.

A senior U.S. military official said Thursday that the United States is on track to begin providing aid using the new port and pier by early May. The official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss details not yet made public, said deliveries by sea would initially total about 90 trucks per day and could quickly increase to about 150 trucks. per day.

The senior official, however, acknowledged that the final installation of the US-built causeway on the port beach will be governed by the security situation, which is assessed daily. The Israel Defense Forces has a brigade – thousands of troops – as well as ships and planes dedicated to protecting deliveries, the official said.

Asked about the recent mortar attack, the military official said the United States believed it had nothing to do with the humanitarian mission, adding that security around the port would be “much stronger” when deliveries begin. Additionally, the United States repeated offensive and defensive measures to ensure that American troops working on the dock and those on the floating platform several miles offshore were all protected.

Humanitarian groups shaken by deaths of seven people World Central Kitchen Auxiliary Workers during an Israeli airstrike on April 1 while traveling in clearly marked vehicles on an Israeli-authorized delivery mission. The killings have reinforced the feeling among some humanitarian groups that the international community should instead focus on pressuring Israel to remove obstacles to trucking aid over land routes.

The staff of World Central Kitchen, who were honored at memorial service In Washington on Thursday, they were among more than 200 aid workers killed in Gaza, a toll that the UN says is three times higher than any previous figure for aid workers in a single year of war.

The development of the port and pier comes as Israel faces widespread international criticism over the slow flow of aid into the Palestinian territory, where the United Nations says at least a quarter of aid the population is on the verge of famine.

This is how the sea route will work:

— The aid pallets will be inspected and loaded onto mostly commercial ships in Cyprus, which will then sail about 200 miles to the large floating platform being built by the U.S. military.

— The pallets will be transferred to trucks, driven to smaller military ships, then transported several miles to the causeway, which will be about 1,800 feet, or 550 meters long, and will be anchored to the shore by the military Israeli.

–The trucks will then travel down the roadway to a secure drop-off area, where the pallets will be distributed to humanitarian agencies. This mission could last several months, said the American military official.

A U.N. official said the port would likely have three areas: one controlled by the Israelis where aid is dropped off from the dock, another where aid will be transferred and a third where Palestinian drivers hired by the UN will wait to collect the aid. aid before bringing it to the distribution points.

THE construction of the new port in the Gaza Strip appears to have evolved rapidly over the past two weeks, according to satellite images analyzed Thursday by The Associated Press. Offshore, U.S. Navy and Army vessels have begun construction of the grand pier, or floating platform.

The port is just southwest of Gaza City, a little north of a road through Gaza that the Israeli army built during the fighting. This area was once the most populated region of the territory, before the Israeli ground offensive occurred, pushing more than a million people south toward the town of Rafah on the Egyptian border.

No militant group immediately claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s mortar attack on the port site, and no one was injured or killed. But it reflects constant threats from Hamas, which has said it will reject the presence of any non-Palestinians in Gaza. Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas politician, said the group would consider Israeli forces – or the forces of any other country – stationed near the pier to guard it as “a force of occupation and aggression” and that they would resist it.

The U.N. World Food Program agreed to lead the effort to provide aid. Carl Skau, deputy executive director of the WFP, speaking at the United Nations on Thursday, said the port mission must be only part of a broader Israeli effort to improve sustainable deliveries of ground aid to ‘avoid a famine.

But, he noted, “let’s be honest, when you’re conducting a humanitarian operation in a combat zone, security is at the top of the list.”

The U.N. official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss behind-the-scenes deliberations, said several sticking points remain over how the Israelis will handle security at the port. The military is apparently seeking to install remote-controlled weapons positions, which the U.N. opposes, the official said, although it was not clear which weapons were being described.

In a statement Thursday, the IDF said it would “act to provide security and logistical support to the initiative,” including the construction of the dock and the transfer of aid from the sea to the Gaza Strip.

The port will provide crucial additional aid as getting more supplies into Gaza through land crossings has proven difficult, with long lines of trucks awaiting Israeli inspections. Past efforts to obtain land by sea failed after the Attack on global central cuisine.

Countries have even tried dropping aid from the sky – a tactic that humanitarian groups consider a last resort because it fails to deliver aid in large quantities and has also led to deaths.

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Baldor reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Menelaos Hadjicostis in Nicosia, Cyprus, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, Josef Federman in Jerusalem and Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington contributed to this report.

News Source : apnews.com
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