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US to build temporary port to deliver Gaza aid

 – The US military will build a temporary port on Gaza’s Mediterranean coast to receive humanitarian aid by sea, President Joe Biden said in his State of the Union speech on Thursday.

Planning for the operation, initially based on the island of Cyprus, does not envision deployment of U.S. military personnel in Gaza.

Mr. Biden’s announcement came as he seeks to cool anger among many in his Democratic Party over his support for Israel in its offensive in Gaza since Oct. 7, given the steep toll on civilians in the Palestinian enclave.

Senior administration officials who had briefed reporters on the plan before the speech also said Hamas was delaying a new deal with Israel on a six-week ceasefire and the release of hostages because the Islamists who rule Gaza have not agreed to free sick and elderly captives.

The deal “is on the table now and has been for more than the past week,” said an official, referring to stalled negotiations in Egypt, adding that the temporary ceasefire was needed “to bring immediate relief to the people of Gaza.”

Hamas blamed the stalemate on Israel’s rejection of its demands to end its offensive and withdraw its forces.

Mr. Biden’s decision to order the construction of the temporary port came amid U.N. warnings of widespread famine among the enclave’s 2.3 million Palestinians after nearly five months of fighting between Israeli troops and Hamas.

Large swaths of Gaza have been destroyed and most of its population displaced by intense Israeli bombardments and fighting ignited by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Israel says Hamas’ incursion claimed 1,200 lives and saw the Islamists abduct 253 hostages.

In his speech, Mr. Biden said more than 30,000 Palestinians had been killed. “Most of whom are not Hamas,” he added. “Thousands and thousands are innocent women and children.”

 

SEA DELIVERIES TO GAZA

Mr. Biden told Congress he was directing the US military to lead an emergency mission to set up a “temporary pier” on the Gaza coast to receive ships carrying food, water, medicine and temporary shelters.

“No US boots will be on the ground,” he added.

Washington will work with European and regional partners and allies to build an international coalition of countries that would contribute capabilities and funds, the officials said.

An Israeli official said Israel “fully supports the deployment of a temporary dock” on Gaza’s coast and the operation would be carried out “with full coordination between the two parties.”

Sigrid Kaag, the U.N. humanitarian and reconstruction coordinator for Gaza, welcomed Washington joining the initiative developed by Cyprus to create a maritime corridor to deliver goods to Gaza.

“We welcome this. At the same time I cannot but repeat – air and sea is not a substitute for land and nobody says otherwise,” Ms. Kaag told reporters earlier on Thursday after briefing the U.N. Security Council behind closed doors.

Although Israel is increasing the number of aid-bearing trucks allowed into Gaza and the United States and other countries have been airdropping supplies, the assistance getting in it still insufficient, one of the US officials said.

“We’re not waiting for the Israelis” to let in more aid, the official added. “This is a moment for American leadership.”

The temporary port would increase humanitarian assistance to Palestinians and officials there would work with U.N. and humanitarian aid organizations that “understand the distribution of assistance within Gaza,” the official said.

The operation would “take a number of weeks to plan and execute”, the official said, adding that the required US forces are in the region or would soon begin moving there.

The operation would build on a Cypriot initiative that calls for gathering humanitarian aid in the island’s port city of Larnaca, 210 nautical miles from Gaza, officials have said.

That would permit Israeli officials to screen shipments before they head to Gaza.

While the temporary port will initially be military-run, Washington envisions it becoming a commercially run facility, the official said. – Reuters

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