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The U.S.-built pier in Gaza broke apart. Here’s how we got here and what might be next

Images show newly completed pier in the Gaza Strip, top, and the remaining section of the temporary pier.
Overhead views of the newly completed pier off the Gaza Strip on May 18, top, and the remaining section of the temporary pier on Wednesday.
(Maxar Technologies via Associated Press)
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A string of security, logistical and weather problems has battered the plan to deliver desperately needed humanitarian aid to Gaza through a U.S. military-built pier.

Broken apart by strong winds and heavy seas just over a week after it became operational, the project faces criticism that it hasn’t lived up to its initial billing or its $320-million price tag.

U.S. officials say, however, that the steel causeway connected to the beach in Gaza and the floating pier are being repaired and reassembled at a port in southern Israel, then will be reinstalled and working again next week.

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While early Pentagon estimates suggested the pier could deliver up to 150 truckloads of aid a day when in full operation, that has yet to happen. Bad weather has hampered progress getting aid into Gaza from the pier, while the Israeli offensive in the southern city of Rafah has made it difficult, if not impossible at times, to get aid into the region by land routes.

The U.S. military finished installing a floating pier to get humanitarian aid to starving Palestinians in the Gaza Strip as the Israel-Hamas war rages.

May 16, 2024

Aid groups have had mixed reactions — both welcoming any amount of aid for starving Palestinians besieged by the nearly eight-month-old Israel-Hamas war and decrying the pier as a distraction that took pressure off Israel to open more border crossings, which are far more productive.

It’s “a sideshow,” said Bob Kitchen, a top official of the International Rescue Committee.

The Biden administration has said from the start that the pier wasn’t meant to be a total solution and that any amount of aid helps.

“Nobody said at the outset that it was going to be a panacea for all the humanitarian assistance problems that still exist in Gaza,” national security spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday. “I think sometimes there’s an expectation of the U.S. military — because they’re so good — that everything that they touch is just going to turn to gold in an instant.”

“We knew going in that this was going to be tough stuff,” he added. “And it has proven to be tough stuff.”

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Before the war, Gaza was getting about 500 truckloads of aid on average every day. The United States Agency for International Development says it needs a steady flow of 600 trucks a day to ease the struggle for food and bring people back from the brink of famine.

A U.S. Navy ship and several Army vessels involved in an effort to bring more aid into the Gaza Strip are building out a floating platform for the operation.

April 29, 2024

The aid brought through the pier was enough to feed thousands for a month, but U.N. data shows it barely made a dent in the overall need of Gaza’s 2.3 million people.

Here’s a look at the timeline of the pier, the problems it faced and what may come next:

Announcement and prep

March 7: President Biden announces his plan for the U.S. military to build a pier during his State of the Union address.

“Tonight, I’m directing the U.S. military to lead an emergency mission to establish a temporary pier in the Mediterranean on the coast of Gaza that can receive large shipments carrying food, water, medicine and temporary shelters,” he said.

But even in those first few moments, he noted the pier would increase the amount of humanitarian aid getting into Gaza but that Israel “must do its part” and let more aid in.

March 8: Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon spokesman, tells reporters it will take “up to 60 days” to deploy the forces and build the project.

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March 12: Four U.S. Army boats loaded with tons of equipment and steel pier segments leave Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia and head to the Atlantic Ocean for what is expected to be a monthlong voyage to Gaza.

The brigade’s commander, Army Col. Sam Miller, warns that the transit and construction will be heavily dependent on the weather and any high seas they encounter.

Late March: U.S. Army vessels hit high seas and rough weather as they cross the Atlantic, slowing their pace.

Israel-Hamas war: The U.S. expects to start delivering aid via a new sea route to Gaza this month, prioritizing food for starving children.

May 3, 2024

Construction and hope

April 1: Seven World Central Kitchen aid workers are killed in an Israeli airstrike as they travel in clearly marked vehicles on a delivery mission authorized by Israel.

The strike fuels ongoing worries about security for relief workers and prompts aid agencies to pause delivery of humanitarian assistance in Gaza.

April 19: U.S. officials confirm that the U.N. World Food Program has agreed to help deliver aid brought to Gaza via the maritime route once construction is done.

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April 25: Major construction of the port facility on the shore near Gaza City begins to take shape. The onshore site is where aid from the causeway will be delivered and given to aid agencies.

April 30: Satellite photos show the U.S. Navy ship Roy P. Benavidez and Army vessels working on assembling the pier and causeway about 7 miles from the port on shore.

The pier opens ... then closes

May 9: The U.S. vessel Sagamore is the first ship loaded with aid to leave Cyprus and head toward Gaza and ultimately the pier. An elaborate security and inspection station has been built in Cyprus to screen the aid coming from a number of countries.

May 16: Well past the 60-day target time, the construction and assembly of the pier off the Gaza coast and the causeway attached to the shoreline are finished after more than a week of weather and other delays.

May 17: The first trucks carrying aid for the Gaza Strip roll down the newly built pier and into the secure area on shore, where they will be unloaded and the cargo distributed to aid agencies for delivery by truck into Gaza.

May 18: Crowds of desperate Palestinians overrun a convoy of aid trucks coming from the pier, stripping the cargo from 11 of the 16 vehicles before they reach a U.N. warehouse for distribution.

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Trucks carrying badly needed aid for the Gaza Strip begin rolling across a newly built U.S. pier and into the besieged enclave for the first time.

May 17, 2024

May 19-20: The first food from the pier — a limited number of high-nutrition biscuits — reaches people in need in central Gaza, according to the World Food Program.

Aid organizations suspend deliveries from the pier for two days while the U.S. works with Israel to open alternate land routes from the pier and improve security.

Friday: So far, a bit more than 1,000 metric tons of aid has been delivered to Gaza via the U.S.-built pier, and USAID later says all of it has been distributed within Gaza.

Saturday: High winds and heavy seas damage the pier and cause four U.S. Army vessels operating there to run aground, injuring three service members, including one who is in critical condition.

Two vessels were beached in Gaza near the base of the pier and the other two near Ashkelon in Israel.

Tuesday: Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh says large portions of the causeway are being pulled from the beach and moved to an Israeli port for repairs. The base of the causeway remains at the Gaza shore.

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She also says that aid in Cyprus is being loaded onto vessels and will be ready to unload onto the pier once it is back in place.

Wednesday: Two of the Army vessels that ran aground in the bad weather are now back at sea and the other two near the pier are being freed, with the aid of the Israeli navy.

What’s next?

In the coming days, the sections of the causeway will be put back together, and by the middle of next week will be moved back to the Gaza shore, where the causeway will once again be attached to the beach, the Pentagon says.

“When we are able to re-anchor the pier back in, you’ll be able to see that aid flow off in a pretty steady stream,” Singh said Tuesday. “We’re going to continue to operate this temporary pier for as long as we can.”

Baldor writes for the Associated Press. AP writer Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington contributed to this report.

Israel-Hamas war: The U.S. expects to start delivering aid via a new sea route to Gaza this month, prioritizing food for starving children.

May 3, 2024

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