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US Dispatches Ship to Start Building Gaza Pier

In this photo provided by US military's Central Command, US Army Vessel General Frank S. Besson prepares to depart Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., March 9, 2024. (US Central Command via AP)
In this photo provided by US military's Central Command, US Army Vessel General Frank S. Besson prepares to depart Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., March 9, 2024. (US Central Command via AP)

A U.S. Army ship was on its way to the Mediterranean Sea on Sunday to start construction of a temporary pier on the Gaza coastline to provide passage for more truckloads of humanitarian aid to famished Palestinians, but officials say it could be as long as two months before the facility is built and operating.

The military’s Central Command said the General Frank S. Besson vessel sailed from a mid-Atlantic U.S. base in Virginia less than 36 hours after President Joe Biden announced the humanitarian effort during his Thursday night State of the Union address.

The eventual plan is for more food and medical supplies to be dispatched to the temporary pier in Gaza from nearby Cyprus after Israeli forces inspect the cargo to make sure no weaponry is included for Hamas militants, now in the sixth month of their war against Israel.

The temporary pier is needed because Gaza has no port infrastructure and Gaza has been under an Israeli navy blockade since 2007, when Hamas took control of the enclave. There have been few direct sea arrivals since then.

A Spanish charity ship carrying food aid was expected to soon set sail from Cyprus. The nongovernmental group Open Arms said its vessel would carry 200 tons of food, which its partner, the U.S. charity World Central Kitchen, would then unload on the shores of Gaza where it had constructed a basic dock.

Meanwhile, no cease-fire has been agreed to as had been hoped for by the start of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, which starts at the first sighting of the crescent moon Sunday and Monday.

Hamas negotiators left Cairo talks last week but said negotiations would resume in the coming days on a possible six-week halt in Gaza fighting. In addition, the release of some of the remaining 100 or so hostages held by the militants in exchange for dozens of Palestinians jailed by Israel and a big increase in humanitarian aid allowed into Gaza were some of the terms discussed.

Both Hamas and Israel blamed each other for the failure to reach a cease-fire, with Israel demanding the names of hostages held by Hamas and the militants pushing their call for a full end to the war even as Israel vows to erase any vestige of Hamas rule in Gaza.

The conflict started October 7 with the shock Hamas terror attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people and led to the capture of about 240 hostages. Israel’s counteroffensive in Gaza has killed more than 31,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas controlled Palestinian Health ministry, the big majority of those killed are women and children. The Israeli military says it has killed thousands of militants.

The United Nations has warned that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are starving and that the daily number of aid trucks entering Gaza by land over the past five months has been far below the 500 that entered before the war because of Israeli restrictions and security issues.

The U.S. Central Command and the Royal Jordanian Air Force conducted a combined humanitarian assistance airdrop into Northern Gaza on Sunday, dropping more than 11,500 meal equivalents, as well as other food including rice, flour, pasta, and canned food into the territory.

But officials say the airdrops are insufficient to cover the vast food needs in Gaza. Five people were also killed days ago when a food pallet hit them.

As the war rages on, U.S. President Biden, has stepped up his criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s oversight of the war, even as Biden has maintained his support for Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas.


Biden: Netanyahu 'Hurting Israel' By Not Preventing Civilian Deaths in Gaza

In an interview on MSNBC on Saturday, Biden said he believes Netanyahu is "hurting Israel more than helping Israel" because of the high death toll of Palestinian civilians.

The U.S. leader said Netanyahu "must pay more attention to the innocent lives being lost as a consequence of the actions taken." He added that "you cannot have 30,000 more Palestinians dead."

In Gaza, Palestinian casualties continued to mount. Gaza officials said at least nine Palestinians, including children, were killed in an Israeli airstrike on a house in Gaza City late Saturday.

Footage shared by the civil defense showed first responders pulling out the dead and injured trapped in the collapsed house. One rescuer was seen holding a dead infant, before placing the limp body on a sofa amid the wreckage.

Elsewhere, the bodies of 15 people, including women and children, were taken to the main hospital in the central town of Deir al-Balah on Sunday, according to The Associated Press.

Relatives said they were killed by Israeli artillery fire toward a large tent camp for displaced Palestinians in the coastal area east of the southern city of Khan Younis.
Israel rarely comments on specific incidents during the war. It has held that Hamas is responsible for civilian casualties because the militant group operates from within civilian areas.

Some material in this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.