A US military ship bound for Gaza to build a port

  • By Tiffany Wertheimer
  • BBC News

image source, US Central Command

image caption,

General Frank S. Besson carries the first load of equipment to build the floating port

A U.S. military ship is en route to the Middle East, carrying equipment to build a makeshift dock off the coast of Gaza, the military said.

The support ship, the General Frank S. Besson, departed a military base in Virginia on Saturday.

It comes after President Joe Biden said the US would build a floating port to help get aid into Gaza by sea.

The UN has warned that famine in the Gaza Strip is almost inevitable and children are starving.

Delivering aid by land and air is difficult and dangerous.

US Central Command X wrote that the US ship departed “within 36 hours” after Mr Biden made his announcement.

“It carries the first equipment to establish a temporary ship to deliver vital humanitarian supplies” to Gaza, the statement continued.

The Pentagon has said it could take up to 60 days to build the ship with the help of 1,000 troops — none of whom will go ashore.

The charities said those suffering in Gaza could not afford to wait that long.

It followed an EU announcement at the weekend that a new sea route would be opened for aid to travel directly from Cyprus, the closest EU country to Gaza.

image source, World Central Kitchen/Open Arms

image caption,

The charity's founder said the open-armed aid ship was set to depart in several weeks

The ship, Open Arms, belongs to the Spanish charity of the same name, and the meals on board are provided by the American charity World Central Kitchen.

It's unclear how any aid delivered by sea before the U.S. ship is built will reach shore safely. Gaza has no functioning port and the surrounding waters are too shallow for large ships.

However, Open Arms founder Oscar Camps told The Associated Press that at the target point — which remains a secret — a team from the World Central Kitchen is building a ship to receive help.

Israel has welcomed the maritime initiative, and said the aid would be provided after security checks were carried out in Cyprus “according to Israeli standards”.

Israel's military launched an air and ground campaign in the Gaza Strip after Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7, which killed around 1,200 people and took 253 hostages.

More than 30,900 people have been killed in Gaza, according to the territory's Hamas-run health ministry.

The conflict has created a growing humanitarian crisis, and at least 576,000 people across the Gaza Strip – a quarter of the population – face catastrophic levels of food insecurity, according to the UN. warned.

The West has pressured Israel to expand its land supply by facilitating more routes and opening additional crossings.

The trucks are entering southern Gaza through the Egyptian-controlled Rafah crossing and the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing. But the north, which was the focus of the first phase of Israel's ground offensive, has been largely cut off from aid in recent months.

300,000 Palestinians live there with little food or clean water.

Israel has been accused of obstructing aid efforts, and an independent UN expert last week accused it of waging a “starvation campaign against the Palestinian people in Gaza”.

Yela Sydrin, a legal adviser at the Israeli embassy to the UN, responded by saying, “Israel absolutely rejects the accusations of using starvation as a weapon of war,” before walking out in protest.

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