Biden to announce Gaza aid port construction

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Recent US aid efforts in Gaza faced challenges without personnel on the ground.
Recent US aid efforts in Gaza faced challenges without personnel on the ground.

US President Joe Biden will announce in his State of the Union speech on Thursday that the US military will construct a temporary port on Gaza’s Mediterranean coast to receive humanitarian aid by sea, senior administration officials said.

Planning for the operation, initially based on the island of Cyprus, does not envisage the deployment of US military personnel in Gaza, and is moving ahead without waiting for Israel to sign off, the officials told a news briefing.

The officials also said that Hamas is 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 stalemated negotiations in Egypt, adding that the temporary ceasefire is 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.

Biden’s decision to order the construction of the temporary port on Gaza’s coast comes amid UN warnings of widespread famine among the enclave’s 2.3 million Palestinians after nearly five months of fighting between Israeli troops and Hamas.

A staunch supporter of Israel, Biden is facing increasing political pressure to end the Israeli offensive, including a protest movement for Democratic voters to withhold their support for the president in his party primaries for November’s general election.

Large swaths of Gaza have been destroyed and most of the population displaced by intense Israeli bombardments and fighting ignited by Hamas’s October 7 onslaught into Israel.

Israel says Hamas’ incursion claimed 1,200 lives and saw the Islamists abduct 253 hostages. Gaza health officials say the number of people killed in the subsequent offensive launched by Israel has surpassed 30,800.

Biden will tell Congress that he is ordering the US military “to undertake an emergency mission to establish a port in Gaza, working with like-minded countries and humanitarian partners,” one official said.

While Israel is increasing the number of aid-bearing trucks allowed into the besieged enclave and the United States and other countries have been airdropping supplies, the amounts of assistance getting in are insufficient, the official said.

“We’re not waiting for the Israelis,” the official continued. “This is a moment for American leadership.”

The temporary port would increase the amount of humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in the war-battered enclave by “hundreds of additional truckloads” per day, the official said, adding that the United States would coordinate security with Israel.

It also would work with the UN and humanitarian aid organisations that “understand the distribution of assistance within Gaza,” the official said.

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

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

Reuters