White House's Gaza Aid Operation May Start Sooner Than Expected

U.S. Army and Navy servicemembers assemble a Trident Pier, a temporary floating causeway for cargo offloading (U.S. Army file image)

Published Mar 18, 2024 6:04 PM by The Maritime Executive

As UN officials warn that famine looms in Gaza, the government of Cyprus is working to raise funds to strengthen and expand a maritime aid corridor to deliver food to civilians in need. 

On Thursday, Cyprus' government will host officials from 40 countries to discuss the growing aid-sealift operation. "We now see a growing international humanitarian coalition and for that we are extremely pleased," Cypriot Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos told The National. 

The first shipment on the corridor arrived in Gaza last weekend when a tug operated by two NGOs delivered a bargeload of supplies. The group had to build a receiving pier out of rubble and dirt for the purpose, as Gaza has no meaningful seaport infrastructure, but it worked for a one-time delivery of urgently needed goods. A second, larger vessel is prepared to set sail when approved. 

Gaza has been closed to seaborne trade since 2007, when Israel instituted a blockade of its maritime boundaries. That blockade has been lifted for the Cypriot aid corridor only, and Israeli officials are inspecting cargo at the port of departure (Larnaca). 

Receiving facilities on the Gaza end will receive an upgrade soon when the U.S. military begins a Joint Logistics Over The Shore (JLOTS) operation. Five U.S. Army landing craft with floating-pier components and equipment are on the way to Gaza now, and the Pentagon has signaled that the temporary receiving terminal could be up and running within two months' time. In good news for aid recipients, Minister Kombos told The National that the JLOTS pier would likely be in operation sooner than that timeframe. 

UN warns of famine

According to the UN World Food Programme (WFP), the entire population of Gaza is facing crisis levels of food insecurity or worse. The agency said Monday that famine is "imminent." 

WPC said that half the population of Gaza (about 1.1 million people) are out of food and struggling with "catastrophic hunger" or starvation. The agency noted that this is a new record for its catastrophic-hunger category.

"There is a very small window left to prevent an outright famine and to do that we need immediate and full access to the north. If we wait until famine has been declared, it’s too late. Thousands more will be dead," said WFP Executive Director Cindy McCain. 

At an aid conference Monday in Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell blamed Israeli border restrictions for the crisis. "In Gaza we are no longer on the brink of famine, we are in a state of famine, affecting thousands of people," Borrell said. 

Borrell's assertion echoes recent complaints by the UN and by aid groups, who say that supply truck convoys have been blocked in North Gaza and have ground to a near-halt in Rafah. 

"Israel allows extensive humanitarian aid into Gaza by land, air, and sea for anyone willing to help," fired back Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz. "It's time for Borrell to stop attacking Israel and recognize our right to self-defense."