On Gaza pier, US troops confront waves, destruction and aid backlog
Credits: AFP

On Gaza pier, US troops confront waves, destruction and aid backlog

In the scorching summer heat, U.S. troops find shelter in containers stationed on what is known as the "parking lot" of a floating pier in the Mediterranean Sea. This pier aims to boost the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, a densely populated enclave home to 2.3 million people.

Just over the horizon, the scene is grim - destroyed buildings and thick black smoke rising from the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants Hamas, now in its eighth month.

Reuters was granted rare access to the pier on Tuesday, where they witnessed aid pallets being transferred from a vessel onto the 1,200-foot (370-meter) long pier as it bobbed with the incoming waves. These pallets were then loaded onto trucks and transported to the coast.

For U.S. Army Sergeant Ibrahim Barry, a Muslim forklift operator on the pier, this mission holds personal significance. Barry was in the U.S. when the war broke out, and he was troubled to see families in Gaza during Ramadan in March and April struggling to find food to break their fasts. "Being in this mission (is) on a personal level for me," he said. "Helping to help them get food... just taking care of people."

The pier was established in March on the order of U.S. President Joe Biden, as famine threatened Gaza. As of Tuesday, 8,332 pallets had been delivered via the pier. However, nearly 6,900 of those pallets remained in a marshalling area on Gaza's coast, waiting to be distributed by the United Nations. The World Food Programme had paused deliveries earlier in the month due to security concerns.

For many of the troops working on the pier operations, this is their first experience in a combat zone. Not so for Captain Joel Stewart, commander of Naval Beach group 1. "War is a terrible thing. I don't care where it is. I don't care what it is. It is destruction. It is never pretty. It is certainly not something that I ever want to see again," he said while standing on the pier. "The sailors, marines, merchant men, soldiers are all behind this mission because they see they are making a difference for the people of Gaza."

The pier's usage has been paused multiple times due to sea conditions, and at one point it was towed to the Israeli port of Ashdod for repairs. A senior U.S. official stated that the pier's authorization may be extended beyond its current July 31 deadline if aid can be successfully delivered to Palestinians in the coming days and weeks.

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