First aid enters Gaza via US-built pier

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The first trucks began supplying aid to the war-ravaged Gaza Strip via a temporary pier on Friday, the US military said, as fighting raged in the Palestinian territory.

US Central Command said “trucks carrying humanitarian assistance began moving ashore” via the long-awaited pier, a day after it was anchored to a Gaza beach.

“This is an ongoing, multinational effort to deliver additional aid to Palestinian civilians in Gaza via a maritime corridor that is entirely humanitarian in nature,” it said.

The US military issued pictures showing aid being lifted onto a barge in the nearby Israeli port of Ashdod, adding on social media platform X that no American troops went ashore.

For the latest updates on the Israel-Palestine conflict, visit our dedicated page.

In the coming days, Central Command says, around 500 tonnes of aid are expected to be brought via the pier to Gaza, where the United Nations has warned of a looming famine.

The aid is being transported from Cyprus, the European Union’s easternmost member located about 360 kilometers (225 miles) from Gaza. The shipment includes EU supplies including 88,000 cans of food from Romania, the 27-member bloc stated.

The EU welcomed the shipment but called on Israel to “expand deliveries by land and to immediately open additional crossings.”

“It is evident that there is no meaningful substitute to land routes via Egypt and Jordan and entry points from Israel into Gaza for aid delivery at scale,” said its crisis management commissioner, Janez Lenarcic.

Attacks on aid trucks

The plan to construct the pier was announced by President Joe Biden in March, as Israel held up deliveries of aid on the ground, worsening Gaza’s dire humanitarian situation.

But aid deliveries have become increasingly complicated as the needs of Gazans grow.

Foreign powers ramped up airdrops of aid, but several people have been killed by falling crates or stampedes or drowned trying to retrieve packages from the Mediterranean.

The UN has repeatedly said overland deliveries are the only way of supplying aid in the volume needed.

In the second such attack this week, the Israeli army said “dozens of Israeli civilians” set fire to a truck carrying Gaza-bound aid in the occupied West Bank on Thursday night.

Media outlets said Israeli settlers were behind the attack.

It came after right-wing activists ransacked at least seven Gaza-bound aid trucks from Jordan near the Tarqumya crossing with the West Bank on Monday.

The war erupted after the October 7 attack on Israel which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Out of 252 people taken hostage that day, 128 are still being held inside Gaza, including 38 who the army says are dead.

Fierce fighting

Israel vowed in response to crush Hamas and launched a military offensive on Gaza, where at least 35,303 people have been killed since the war began, according to data provided by the health ministry in the territory.

Overnight in Gaza, witnesses reported fierce battles with Israeli helicopter strikes and artillery shelling in and around the northern refugee camp of Jabalia.

The bodies of six people were retrieved and several wounded people were evacuated after a strike targeted a house in Jabalia, Gaza’s Civil Defense agency said.

Witnesses also said Israeli warships launched strikes on Rafah, where more than 1.4 million Palestinian civilians have been sheltering.

Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, said it “targeted enemy forces stationed inside the Rafah border crossing... with mortar shells.”

Despite growing international opposition, including from its top ally the United States, Israel has vowed to step up its ground offensive in Rafah.

But Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Thursday said “additional forces will enter” the Rafah area and “this activity will intensify.”

On the same day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted Israel’s ground assault on Rafah was a “critical” part of its army’s mission to destroy Hamas and prevent any repetition of the October 7 attack.

On Friday, 13 Western countries, including many traditionally supportive of Israel, appealed to it not to launch a large-scale Rafah offensive, warning it would have “catastrophic consequences” on civilians.

Many of those fleeing Rafah have headed for the coastal area of Al-Mawasi that Israel has declared a “humanitarian zone.”

Satellite images also show a vast new tent city that has sprung up near the main southern city of Khan Younis.

Many of the displaced are “exhausted, they are scared, they don’t have resources,” said Javed Ali, head of emergency response in Gaza for International Medical Corps.

Arab push for peacekeepers

On the diplomatic front, the Arab League issued a call on Thursday for “international protection and peacekeeping forces of the United Nations” to be deployed in Palestinian territories.

In a statement at the end of a summit in Bahrain, the 22-member bloc also appealed for an “immediate” ceasefire in Gaza and an end to forced displacement in the narrow coastal territory.

The United States said a UN peacekeeping force could compromise Israel’s efforts to defeat Hamas, while stopping short of opposing it.

“Candidly, the addition of additional security forces could potentially put that mission into compromise,” said State Department spokesman Vedant Patel.

But he said the United States did not yet have a “conclusive assessment” of the summit’s statement and suggested a force could be more acceptable once a ceasefire is in place.

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Despite previous threats by Biden to withhold some arms deliveries over the Rafah offensive, his administration informed Congress this week of a new $1 billion weapons package for Israel, sources told AFP.

At the United Nations’ top court in The Hague, Israel hit back on Friday at allegations from South Africa that it has escalated a campaign of “genocide” with its military operation in Rafah.

“There is a tragic war going on but there is no genocide,” its lawyer Gilad Noam told the International Court of Justice, arguing the accusations are “completely divorced from the facts.”

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