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US racing to prepare Gaza jetty by May 1, says US official
US racing to prepare Gaza jetty by May 1, says US official
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US racing to prepare Gaza jetty by May 1, says US official
by DZRH News22 March 2024
FILE PHOTO: The Open Arms, a rescue vessel owned by a Spanish NGO, departs with humanitarian aid for Gaza from the port of Larnaca, Cyprus, March 12, 2024. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou/File Photo

By Michele Kambas

LARNACA, Cyprus (Reuters) -The United States is working hard to prepare a landing jetty which would facilitate aid to Gaza by sea, a senior U.S. official said on Thursday, saying it could be ready before May 1.

Five months of war have created critical food shortages among Gaza's 2.3 million Palestinians that in some areas now exceed famine levels, according to the United Nations.

A bottleneck in land aid has been supplemented by airdrops and, recently, aid from Cyprus via a recently opened maritime corridor. With no infrastructure to speak of, a charity recently built a makeshift jetty from rubble to handle incoming aid while the United States plans a pier to get aid to shore.

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"The U.S. military is doing everything they can to accelerate the deployment of this capability, to make it operational prior to the May 1 target date that they've set," said Curtis Ried, Chief of Staff of the National Security Council.

"They are working very hard to advance that and hopefully we can see it operational a bit earlier than that," he told journalists on the sidelines of a conference in Cyprus.

Asked about how the operation would work within Gaza, Ried said there was no plan for American personnel to go ashore. Israel, he said, would play an important role in securing a broad area, while the U.S. was talking to "a number of countries" about potentially serving as a security partner within the perimeter compound secured by the Israelis.

From there on, he said, aid would likely be distributed by a U.N. agency, and that the U.N. Palestinian agency (UNRWA) would, for the foreseeable future, continue to be used.

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The U.S. paused its funding to UNRWA in January after Israel accused 12 of the agency's 13,000 employees in Gaza of participating in the Oct. 7 attacks, but insists the aid group's humanitarian outreach is indispensable.

Cyprus, which hosted a gathering of officials from 36 countries and aid agencies on Thursday did not list UNRWA as a participant in a notification issued Wednesday, but included a host of other U.N. agencies.

The U.S. had been clear that while it had serious concerns over the allegations Israel raised regarding UNRWA staff, it considered its distribution network essential for aid getting though to Palestinians, Ried said.

"We must continue to make use of UNRWA's distribution network in Gaza because there inst a way to replace it quickly, it might be replaced over time, but currently its the best method that we have to deliver assistance."

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Under an agreement hammered out with Israel, cargoes can undergo security inspections in Cyprus by a team including Israel, eliminating the need for screenings at its final offloading point to remove potential hold-ups in aid deliveries.

One vessel left Cyprus last week and distributed aid in Gaza, while another two are expected to depart in coming days, subject to weather conditions.

"We are discussing how we can max up operational capacity both in terms of departure and means of transport and also in relation to the reception and distribution methodology," said Constantinos Kombos, Cyprus's foreign minister.

(Reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Alistair Bell)

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