Aid begins to enter Gaza through US-built dock, but officials say it is not enough

Humanitarian aid trucks began disembarking in Gaza on Friday morning through a temporary pier built by the US military, the first aid supplies sent to the enclave by sea in two months. But the new shipments of food and other supplies fall far short of what aid groups say is needed to address the staggering levels of hunger and deprivation in Gaza.

A day earlier, the US military said it had anchored the floating dock and causeway to the Gaza beach, a key step in completing the sea corridor announced by the Pentagon in March. U.S. officials and international aid groups have said sea shipments can only supplement deliveries through land passages, not replace them.

No American troops entered Gaza on Friday, the US military said, stressing that it was only providing logistical support for the delivery of supplies, which were donated by a number of countries and organizations.

The war-ravaged territory, home to 2.2 million civilians, is more dependent than ever on humanitarian aid. The devastation after seven months of Israeli bombardment, strict Israeli inspections and restrictions on border crossings had already severely limited what could enter. And in the last week and a half, since Israel began a military attack around the city of Rafah, the flow of supplies through major land crossings into southern Gaza has slowed to a trickle.

Humanitarian agencies continued to report increasingly dire conditions in Gaza. Janti Soeripto, president and CEO of Save the Children US, told the New York Times on Friday: “We have never seen anything like this anywhere on the planet.”

Israel has come under pressure from the Biden administration and other allies to do more to ease the entry of aid, with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken warning this week that recent improvements in aid delivery have been compromised by the fighting in and around Rafah.

More than 630,000 Gazans have fled Rafah since Israel began its military offensive on May 6, according to the main U.N. agency that helps Palestinians. Many have been displaced in the central town of Deir al Balah, which the United Nations agency, known as UNRWA, said on social media is now “unbearably overcrowded and in terrible conditions.”

This week, top diplomats from 13 countries – including all members of the Group of 7 industrialized democracies except the United States – said in a joint letter, a copy of which was seen by the New York Times, that Israel must take “action urgent” to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The letter, addressed to the Israeli Foreign Minister, calls on Israeli authorities to increase the amount of aid entering the territory, to take “concrete actions” to protect civilians and to work towards a “sustainable ceasefire”.

At a hearing at the International Court of Justice in The Hague on Friday, lawyers representing Israel defended the military operation in Rafah as “limited and localized,” arguing that judges should not seek to limit Israel's actions to Gaza.

The hearings at the Court, the United Nations' highest judicial body, are part of a case filed by South Africa in December accusing Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. In late January, the court ordered Israel to do more to prevent acts of genocide, but the main case on whether or not genocide has been committed is not expected until next year.

Last week, South Africa asked judges to issue an emergency order aimed at preventing large-scale civilian harm in Rafah. South Africa's lawyers argued in court on Thursday that Israel's Rafah operation was “the final step in the destruction of Gaza and its Palestinian people.”

On Friday, Gilad Noam, Israel's deputy attorney general for international law, reiterated Israel's fierce refusal to commit genocide in Gaza. He said Israeli authorities were working to facilitate the flow of humanitarian aid and to protect civilians from the fierce fighting in the enclave, including Rafah.

“Israel is taking steps to try to address the enormous complexity that this situation presents,” Noam told the judges. “That is why there was not a large-scale attack in Rafah, but rather specific, limited and localized operations, preceded by evacuation efforts and support for humanitarian activities.”

The Israeli military said it is working with the US military to support the temporary pier project as a “top priority.”

According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, the supplies that began arriving Friday were a fraction of Gaza's needs: food bars for 11,000 people, therapeutic food for 7,200 malnourished children and hygiene kits for 30,000 people. The British government said it had sent 8,400 temporary shelters made of plastic sheeting.

“Further help will arrive in the coming weeks, but we know that the sea route is not the only answer,” British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in a statement.

It was not immediately clear where in the enclave the aid would be delivered or when. The United Nations World Food Program said in a statement that it will handle logistics in Gaza for aid arriving through the dock, including coordinating trucks, supervising the loading of supplies, shipping them to warehouses and delivering them to “humanitarian partners”.

Pentagon officials said the goal initially was to deliver about 90 trucks of aid by sea each day, increasing that to about 150 trucks when the operation reached maximum capacity. About 500 trucks loaded with commercial goods and aid arrived in Gaza every day before the war began last October.

According to the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III discussed the sea corridor in a phone call with his Israeli counterpart, Yoav Gallant, on Thursday. According to the department, Austin stressed the need to “scale up” humanitarian assistance to Gaza through land border crossings in addition to the pier.

Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, deputy commander of Central Command, said the dock will only supplement the flow of aid through land crossings, which he stressed is “the most efficient and effective route to move the volume of assistance needed.”

One of Gaza's two main aid crossings, at Rafah on the border with Egypt, has been closed since Israel began its military operation against Hamas fighters there. Israel closed its second major crossing, at Kerem Shalom, after a Hamas rocket attack nearby killed four Israeli soldiers last week. That crossing has since been reopened, Israel says.

An aid group, World Central Kitchen, built a makeshift pier in mid-March to deliver aid by sea to Gaza for the first time in nearly two decades. But those efforts came to an abrupt end in early April, after seven of the group's workers were killed in an Israeli strike.

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