Gaza war: as ceasefire talks break down the humanitarian crisis continues to escalate



As Gaza ceasefire talks hang in the balance, Israel has launched its assault on Rafah in the south of the strip, despite the remaining presence of nearly a million Palestinian civilians in the city. The Israel Defense Forces have reported taking control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing, a main entry point for humanitarian aid.

The other main border crossing, Kerem Shalom, has come under rocket attacks by Hamas which continue daily. According to the latest statement from the UN’s humanitarian office both crossings remain closed: “The two main arteries for getting aid into Gaza are currently choked off,” a UN spokesperson told Reuters: “If no fuel comes in for a prolonged period of time it would be a very effective way of putting the humanitarian operation in its grave.”

So now the main ways to get aid into Gaza have been shut down. This raises the pressure on US plans to complete its temporary pier off the coast of Gaza to receive aid. This is still some way off being operational.

There were hopes that the pier may be completed and become operational by the weekend of May 4-5. On May 1, the Pentagon announced that it was about 50% completed.

But due to rough seas, assembly had to be moved to the Israeli port of Ashdod, 40kms north of the Gaza Strip. The safety of the US soldiers involved in the pier’s construction is also a concern.

The construction cost approximately US$320 million (£255 million). The 549-metre causeway, which has been named the Trident Pier, will consist of modular sections anchored to the shoreline. The US military is also building a floating platform, 82 metres long and 23 metres wide, about three miles off Gaza’s coast.

Pallets of humanitarian aid undergo inspection before being loaded on to commercial ships in Cyprus. On the floating platform, pallets are transferred onto smaller boats for transport through shallow water to the causeway. Trucks transport pallets to a secure drop-off area for distribution by humanitarian agencies like the World Food Programme.

The vessel Sagamore is set to be the first to deliver aid  to the pier. It is currently in Cyprus. The 184 metre long container ship has its own cranes to offload cargo and can transport up to 1728 20-foot containers. 

Under construction: US troops are racing to complete a floating pier to help relieve the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. US army via AP

Initially, the pier will handle 90 truckloads of aid per day. Once fully operational, capacity is expected to increase to 150 truckloads per day. This would be a valuable addition to the average of 189 trucks that entered Gaza by road every day in April, but insufficient to meet humanitarian needs.

Humanitarian aid providers are already staging cargo in Cyprus for delivery via the sea route. As with the existing land corridors for aid delivery from Egypt and Jordan, many tonnes of food, medical supplies, and other items are waiting to be transported to Gaza.

Humanitarian aid and the military

This conflict is highly political around the world. Any military intervention by the US would be very controversial. Officials emphasised that no US boots will be on the ground in Gaza as part of the construction and operation of the pier. However, armed forces will be part of this new aid corridor.

The Israel Defense Forces are responsible for anchoring the causeway to the beach. They also stated that they will provide security and logistics support. The 

 is supporting the US during the construction of the pier. The BBC reported that British troops might also drive trucks from the causeway to the distribution area. This would be a significant foreign intervention. There are concerns that UK soldiers would become targets .

Armed forces can play an important role in humanitarian aid, especially with their logistics expertise. However, they are not considered humanitarian personnel and their role is seen very critically.

Humanitarian organisations adhere to the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and independence. Their aim is to address human suffering wherever it is found. According to the principle of neutrality, they should not take sides in a conflict. Impartiality means that aid should be provided regardless of nationality, race, religion, class or politics. These principles are difficult to maintain while working with armed forces.

Humanitarian organisations do not have a consistent approach to working with the military. But when humanitarian action drifts away from these principles, the risks for humanitarian aid workers grow. More than 200 aid workers have already been killed in Gaza.

The most widely reported attack on aid workers was linked to the operations of the original smaller pier for aid deliveries by sea. Seven workers for the NGO World Central Kitchen were killed leaving a warehouse for goods being delivered to that pier. More recently, there was a mortar attack on the land side of the pier under construction.

The wider picture

The UN has announced a new mechanism for increasing aid to Gaza. In addition to the pier, this includes the temporary reopening of the Erez crossing in Gaza’s north on May 1, which so far allowed 30 trucks with medical supplies from Jordan to pass.

The Erez crossing has been opened to allow up to 40 trucks per day into Northern Gaza. However, security scanning will still need to be done elsewhere, most likely towards the southern end of Gaza – at the moment still a combat zone.

The port of Ashdod handling aid shipments has finally been approved by Israel. This deep water port relatively close to Gaza can handle much higher volumes of cargo and faster processing than the floating pier. But that aid still needs to be able to cross into Gaza.

With Israeli officials doing checks in Cyprus before aid is shipped to Gaza, the pier avoids the bottleneck of border crossings. But the pier can only supplement and not replace aid deliveries by road – 90 to 150 truckloads of aid per day alone will not be enough to meet the needs of the Palestinian people.

 

-This article was originally published in The Conversation and is authored by Sarah Schiffling, Deputy Director of the HUMLOG (Humanitarian Logistics and Supply Chain Management Research) Institute, Hanken School of Economics and Foteini Stavropoulou, Senior Lecturer in Operations and Supply Chain Management, Liverpool John Moores University.

IMAGE: US troops are racing to build a temporary harbour for aid in Gaza.

 



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