US to set up floating pier off Gaza coast to boost delivery of humanitarian aid

UN and relief agencies concerned US takeover of maritime corridor will force humanitarians to work alongside Israeli military, with consequences for safety

US naval vessels are poised to set up the temporary floating pier dispatched by the Biden administration to boost humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. Operations could begin by the end of this month or early May.

Supplies are to be delivered to the pier, anchored several kilometres off the coast, and relayed to a US-built causeway by US military boats where non-military lorries will collect and distribute aid. The stated aim is to provide two million meals a day.

After reportedly tense discussions the World Food Programme, which is headed by US appointee Cindy McCain, agreed to partner with the US Agency for International Development to conduct the mission in co-ordination with the Israeli military.

Separately, Fogbow – a US private firm founded by former US military officers, diplomats and intelligence agents – has proposed sending three large barges carrying aid trucks from Cyprus to Gaza where they would land near the pier in an area held by the Israeli army.


UN and independent relief agencies have expressed concern about the apparent US takeover of the maritime humanitarian corridor originally meant to be used by non-profit organisations to ship aid from Cyprus to Gaza. An unnamed UN official said: “The perception that would be created of humanitarians operating alongside the [Israeli army] in any way, shape, or form, would be ruinous for the reputation of humanitarians in Gaza. We would be seen to be collaborating. It would of course have knock-on consequences in terms of our safety and acceptance inside of Gaza.”

The maritime corridor’s original makeshift pier used by Spain’s Open Arms vessels and the US-based World Central Kitchen in their two Gaza aid voyages was in northern Gaza, where the threat of famine is acute. However, the US pier is to be located off mid-Gaza where the Israeli army has built a road bisecting the narrow strip and set up checkpoints that have denied aid to 300,000 Gazans in the north.

By directing supplies to the south, Israel could assemble stocks for Gazans besieged in the town of Rafah, the main land crossing for aid lorries via Egypt. The Associated Press has reported that satellite photographs show a large tent compound is under construction near Khan Younis in the south. The Wall Street Journal has said the camp could house civilians evacuated in advance of Israel’s offensive against Hamas’s stronghold in Rafah.

US president Joe Biden has opposed Israel’s assault until civilians are out of danger and food, water and medical services are provided, prompting Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu to pause the offensive until civilians move.

Suggesting a US policy change, state department spokesman Matthew Miller said “we don’t think there’s any effective way to evacuate 1.4 million” without harming civilians and severely hampering the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

“We do want to see people able to leave Rafah to return to their homes – if they exist – and to their neighbourhoods and to begin rebuilding their homes,” said Mr Miller. “We want to see the Palestinian people in Gaza start to restart their lives and rebuild their lives and ultimately bring this conflict to a close.”

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times