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Pier symbol of US' dual approach to Gaza

The $320 million project has been disrupted by storms, injuries, theft and political discord

By HENG WEILI in New York | | Updated: 2024-05-30 15:39
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Paragliders pass above US troops working around vessels used for delivering aid to Palestinians via a new US-built pier in Gaza, May 25, 2024. [Photo/Agencies]

A pier constructed by the Pentagon to deliver food to Gaza amid the Israel-Hamas war is a window on the United States' dual approach to the conflict — provide humanitarian aid to Palestinians and lethal weaponry to Israel.

Now the $320 million pier has sustained severe weather damage and will need to be repaired. It will be pulled from the beach and sent to the southern Israeli city of Ashdod, where US Central Command will repair it, Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh told reporters on Tuesday.

She said the repairs will take "at least over a week", and then the pier will need to be anchored back into the beach in Gaza.

"From when it was operational, it was working, and we just had sort of an unfortunate confluence of weather storms that made it inoperable for a bit," Singh said.

On X, Graham Allen posted a photo of the mostly submerged pier to his 418,000 followers with the message: 'So I got 'community noted' for claiming that Biden's pier in Gaza washed away… WELL, here it is now, pretty much submerged not doing anything. This is what your taxpayer money goes to!!!!"

The setback is the latest for the pier, which just began operations in mid-May and has already seen three American service members injured and four vessels run aground due to heavy seas. Two of the service members received minor injuries, but the third is still in critical condition, Singh said.

About 1,000 American sailors and soldiers have been engaged in the pier mission, the Pentagon has said.

The pier, used to distribute humanitarian aid arriving by sea, is one of the few ways that food and other supplies can get to Palestinians, who the United Nations says are on the brink of famine amid the nearly 8-month-old war.

But the food is not making it to the intended recipients.

The Pentagon said on May 21 that it believed that none of a reported 569 metric tons of food made it to Palestinians.

Deliveries were halted for two days last week after crowds rushed trucks coming from the pier; a Palestinian man was shot dead.

"Crowds had stopped the trucks at various points along the way. There was ... what I think I would refer to as self-distribution," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

However, 500 metric tons of aid offloaded at the pier went to humanitarian partners, two-thirds of which were headed to those in need, according to the US Agency for International Development (USAID) said last week.

A deepening Israeli offensive in the southern city of Rafah also has made it impossible for shipments to get through the crossing there, which is a key source for fuel and food into Gaza.

Jeremy Scahill, a US investigative reporter, posted on X on May 16 that the fact that the US "funds, arms, politically bolsters & shields (Israel) from international & US law, won't allow aid into Gaza by land is a damning statement about the Biden administration".

Ishaan Tharoor, a columnist for The Washington Post, wrote on X on May 16: "No major humanitarian organization has asked for this pier, and most see it as a costly distraction that will do little to make a dent in meeting Gaza's overwhelming humanitarian needs. For that, you need a ceasefire and open border crossings and less military obstruction."

On Wednesday, the Biden administration would not confirm if Israel used American bombs in an airstrike over the weekend that killed 45 Palestinians, many of them women and children, at a camp in Rafah.

Israel said that two senior Hamas leaders were killed in the attack.

Remains of the US-produced GBU-39 small diameter bombs (SDB) were found at the scene, CNN reported, citing four explosive-weapons experts.

"We're not going to speak to individual payload loadouts on individual Israeli aircraft," White House spokesman John Kirby told reporters Wednesday. "The [Israeli military] should speak to their conduct of this particular operation, and that would include … discussion of what was used."

Israel has called the attack a "tremendous mistake".

Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said at a news conference Tuesday that the airstrike was conducted using "the smallest munition that our jets can use".

Of the strike, Wes Bryant, a retired US Air Force master sergeant who served on a task force critical of Israel's use of weapons in Gaza, told The New York Times: "It indicates continued targeting negligence — either an unwillingness or inability to effectively safeguard civilians.

"When you use a weapon that's intended as precision and low collateral damage in an area where civilians are saturated, it really negates that intended use," he said.

Nikki Haley, a former US ambassador to the UN who ran an unsuccessful presidential primary campaign against former US president Donald Trump this year, was pictured writing "finish them" on an Israeli artillery shell during a visit to Israel on Tuesday.

Many posts on social media have called the pier an attempt to sway voters in Michigan, which has a large Muslim population. The swing state could be crucial to the November presidential election.

On May 15, the Biden administration announced that it planned to move forward on a new $1 billion sale of arms and ammunition to Israel, according to three congressional aides, The Associated Press reported.

The package includes about $700 million for tank ammunition, $500 million in tactical vehicles and $60 million in mortar rounds, the congressional aides said on condition of anonymity.

Agencies contributed to this story.

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