The US says the end of its pier for Gaza aid is coming soon

WASHINGTON (AP) — Battling rough seas around Gaza, the U.S. now is considering abandoning efforts to reinstall the pier that has been used to get badly needed humanitarian aid to starving Palestinians, two U.S. officials said Thursday.

The initial plan earlier this week had been to reinstall the pier for a few days to move the final pallets of aid onto the shore and then permanently remove it, but rough seas have prevented the reinstallation.

The White House and the Defense Department both said the pier will cease operations “soon” but would not specify timing. Other U.S. officials said the Pentagon and U.S. Central Command were actively discussing an early end to pier operations because weather and some maintenance problems make it far less desirable to reconnect it for just a short time.

President Joe Biden, who announced the building of the pier during his State of the Union speech in March, expressed disappointment that it didn't do as well as hoped.

“I’ve been disappointed that some of the things that I put forward have not succeeded as well — like the port we attached from Cyprus,” Biden said during his news conference on Thursday. “I was hopeful that would be more successful.”

The U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said there is no final decision yet and that if the weather calms for a bit, there is a slim chance they could reattach it for a short time.

Across Washington, officials were signaling the end of what has been a mission fraught with weather and security problems, but which also has brought more than 19.4 million pounds (8.6 million kilograms) of aid to starving residents in Gaza as the nine-month-long war between Israel and Hamas drags on.

“I do anticipate that in relatively short order we will wind down pier operations,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Washington on Thursday. ”The real issue right now is not about getting aid into Gaza. It’s about getting around Gaza effectively.”

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, acknowledged in a statement that U.S. military personnel “were unable to re-anchor the pier to the shore” as planned this week, and that a date to reattach it has not been set. “The pier will soon cease operations,” he said, but provided no timeline.

Some aid still remains offshore and in Cyprus, but officials said they are looking at alternative plans to take the aid to the Israeli port at Ashdod. The port has been eyed as a likely replacement option for the movement of supplies from Cyprus to Gaza.

Despite the issues with the pier, Sullivan called the project a success.

“Look, I see any result that produces more food, more humanitarian goods, getting to the people of Gaza as a success,” Sullivan said. ”It is additive. It is something additional that otherwise we would not have gotten there when it got there. And that is a good thing.”

That total amount of aid delivered, said Ryder, “represents the largest amount of aid transported by the U.S. military over a three-month period and the largest humanitarian response in the Middle East region.”

And Samantha Power, the United States Agency for International Development administrator, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the sea route has brought in enough food to feed 450,000 of Gaza’s 2.3 million people for a month.

“When the pier was brought on line was one of the most desperate moments in this crisis,” said Power, speaking during a trip to Israel to try to bolster humanitarian delivery to Gaza. “So it’s been, I think, a bigger part of meeting food needs than people are aware.”

The continuing weather problems have forced the military to temporarily remove the pier three times since it was installed in May. And the project has also been hampered by security threats that prompted aid agencies to halt distribution of the food and other supplies into Gaza.

The aid groups have said that while any amount of food for Gaza is welcome, many have criticized the project as a costly distraction, saying the U.S. should concentrate on pressuring Israel to allow more aid through land borders, which have long been considered the most productive option.

The U.N. suspended all World Food Program deliveries from the the pier after a June 8 Israeli military raid that saved four Israeli hostages but killed hundreds of Palestinians, citing concerns that troops used an area near there for flying out the rescued hostages by helicopter.

Aid flowing through the pier then began piling up in the secure area on the beach, but the WFP eventually hired contractors to move it into storage areas for further distribution. The Defense Department said this week that a significant amount of the aid had been cleared out.

The Pentagon insisted all along that the pier — an Army system known as the Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore, or JLOTS, capability — was only meant to be a temporary fix. And it said it was put in place as a stopgap while officials worked with the Israelis to open land routes.


Associated Press writers Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington and Ami Ben Tov in Ashdod, Israel.