US military fails to reconnect Gaza docks, says mission is nearing end

The Pentagon said Thursday that U.S. forces have failed to re-secure a humanitarian outpost in the Gaza Strip and will “immediately cease operations” in the project, which has faced difficulties since President Biden announced it four months ago.

Spokesman Patrick Ryder said in a statement that the U.S. military tried to reconnect the floating dock to the shoreline on Wednesday but was unable to do so due to “technical and weather-related issues.” The dock and support vessel were returned to Israel’s port of Ashdod, where they had taken refuge during recent heavy seas, and will remain there until further notice, Ryder said.

“The pier is expected to close soon and further details regarding the process and timing will be announced shortly,” he said.

Ryder’s statement did not say whether U.S. forces would try to reconnect the pier to Gaza’s coast. A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said commanders considered trying the operation again on Thursday but called it off due to concerns about sea conditions.

U.S. military officials moved the structure to Ashdod late last month, citing concerns that rough seas that previously caused extensive damage to the structure could again endanger it.

Defense officials have repeatedly said the pier is temporary and that calm seas are necessary to deliver aid, but they note that optimal seasonal conditions could soon be over. The floating structure, which is connected to land by a steel causeway, can only be activated in waves no higher than 3 feet, according to a previous assessment by a U.S. military journal.

The operation has brought about 20 million pounds of food ashore since it began May 17 — just a fraction of what humanitarian organizations need as Palestinians trapped in fighting between Israel and Hamas face starvation and Israeli authorities resist U.S. and international demands to send more aid to the Gaza Strip by land.

And as the war’s civilian death toll continues to rise alarmingly, aid groups are concerned about the safety of their staff, hindering the distribution of supplies from the pier. Until recently, supplies that arrived were piled up in a dump site along the shore. A U.S. defense official familiar with the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss recent developments, said a significant amount of the supplies have been moved elsewhere, leaving room for new deliveries once the pier is up and running again.

The U.S. Agency for International Development, which works with humanitarian groups in the Gaza Strip, will continue to use all available routes into the Gaza Strip to deliver food and medicine to Palestinian civilians, an agency official said. Those groups have also begun using the port of Ashdod in the northern Gaza Strip to deliver additional aid, the official said.

The intermittent maritime mission has become a bone of contention in polarized Washington. Administration officials have defended the effort despite numerous setbacks, but other Democrats say the mission highlights Biden’s failure to force Israeli leaders to prioritize the safety and welfare of civilians.

Several Republican lawmakers have repeatedly called for the pier to be permanently removed, citing safety concerns for the roughly 1,000 U.S. troops on the mission.

The project was announced by President Biden in March, and administration officials estimated the pier could deliver up to 2 million meals a day to hungry Palestinians. Officials expected deliveries to begin in early May, but strong waves, as has happened repeatedly, hit. Plans have been changed, postponing the original docking at the pier until mid-month.

Days after the first supplies began flowing, the mission was halted on May 25 when rough seas and strong winds washed four Army boats onto Gaza’s shore and smashed the pier to pieces, causing damage that Pentagon officials estimated was at least $22 million.

US forces reassembled it in Ashdod and returned it to its original location on June 8. It was removed six days later. It was closed again due to weather concerns, but the Ministry of Defence said the pier was used for a steady flow of supplies for about a week, landing £10 million in relief supplies, before being removed at the end of June.

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