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Biden to order US military to construct port in Gaza for aid distribution

US president will make announcement during State of the Union address, and officials say operation would not 'require US boots on the ground'
Smoke billows after a strike by Israel on the port of Gaza City, on 10 October 2023 (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

US President Joe Biden is going to announce in his State of the Union speech on Thursday evening local time that the US military will construct a temporary floating pier on Gaza's coast which will increase the amount of humanitarian aid entering the enclave, senior Biden administration officials said.

The officials also said at a press briefing previewing the speech that Biden will announce he ordered the US military "to establish a port in Gaza, working with like-minded countries and humanitarian partners", an official told reporters.

The official said that the US would coordinate the security of the port with Israel and that the temporary port would increase the amount of humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in the war-battered enclave by "hundreds of additional truckloads" per day.

However, another official noted that the operation would not require a physical military presence in Gaza.

"We’re not planning for this to be an operation that would require US boots on the ground," the second official said.

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Washington would also work with the UN and humanitarian aid organisations that "understand the distribution of assistance within Gaza", an official said.

An Israeli official said on Thursday that Israel supports the US initiative to construct a “temporary dock” along the Gaza coast for the delivery of humanitarian aid via sea and will collaborate with the United States on the project’s development.

The official, who spoke anonymously, said that Israel “fully supports” the establishment of the facility. 

The US previously suspended funding to Unrwa, the primary UN agency for Palestinian refugees that operates and facilitates aid to Palestinians in Gaza, over Israeli accusations that Unrwa staff members were involved in the 7 October Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel.

Middle East Eye reported that the US has been lobbying other countries, including Turkey, to increase donations to Unrwa amid Washington's decision to pause funding.

MEE reached out to the White House for clarification on which aid groups it would be working with, as well as which "like-minded" countries the US would be working with regarding the construction of the port.

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An official said that initial aid supplies would come from Cyprus.

The announcement of the US port in Gaza comes as the US has begun to airdrop aid into the besieged enclave, which is currently facing an acute humanitarian crisis amid Israel's military assault.

Last month, Israeli forces opened fire on Palestinians waiting for food aid in northern Gaza, killing more than 100 people and causing massive outrage from rights groups and UN experts.

It also comes as a delegation from Hamas left Cairo on Thursday, with negotiating parties unable to finalise a potential temporary ceasefire agreement before Ramadan. Washington has said it still hopes for a deal to be made ahead of the Islamic holy month, but there appears to be no sign of progress on Thursday.

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