US to begin construction of Gaza pier as Rafah invasion looms

An image released by the U.N.’s agency for Palestinian refugees shows an aid truck in northern Gaza. PHOTO: UNRWA/REUTERS
An image released by the U.N.’s agency for Palestinian refugees shows an aid truck in northern Gaza. PHOTO: UNRWA/REUTERS


More humanitarian aid could reach the enclave’s north via the floating pier, including if a planned Israeli ground offensive disrupts deliveries in the south.

WASHINGTON—U.S. troops plan to start assembling a floating pier off the coast of northern Gaza as early as this weekend, American defense officials said, part of an effort by the Biden administration to get more aid into the besieged enclave ahead of Israel’s planned invasion of the city of Rafah.

But US officials warned that they didn’t expect the pier to supplant deliveries across Gaza’s land borders, which the United Nations has said is the most efficient way to get humanitarian aid into the strip.

U.S. officials have pressed the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to do more to protect civilians in Gaza—both during its planned offensive in Rafah, the one city in the enclave that hasn’t been part of Israel’s ground invasion, and by helping alleviate a devastating hunger crisis.

More than 1 million Palestinians, about half of the Gaza Strip’s population, are currently sheltering in Rafah. A ground invasion of the city, which Israel says is the final holdout of Hamas militants in Gaza, risks further disrupting the delivery of desperately needed food, drinking water and other essentials. The vast majority of humanitarian aid currently enters through two border crossings in southern Gaza.

Some U.S. officials have said the pier, which will float several miles off Gaza’s shore, will help get more aid into northern Gaza, where some residents are already living in famine-like conditions, according to estimates released last month by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, an international initiative tasked with assessing the risk of famine around the world. Such deliveries will become even more crucial once Israel’s expected Rafah offensive pushes more Gazans to flee once again, this time toward the north.

The Pentagon estimates that it will take U.S. troops 10 to 14 days to assemble the pier, but officials said it could take longer given the unusual challenges of building the pier as well as a floating causeway closer to the shore, without American military personnel ever setting foot in Gaza.

Humanitarian aid will be loaded onto ships on the island of Cyprus and travel toward Gaza. Once the ships dock on the floating pier, the aid will be loaded onto smaller support vessels to take it to the causeway, from where aid groups will transport it into Gaza on nonmilitary trucks. The Israeli military will be responsible for securing the area around the pier.

Gaza’s 2.2 million residents are experiencing some of the worst levels of hunger in the world. Food and other deliveries shrank to a fraction of their normal levels after Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks and Israel’s subsequent military offensive. Health officials in Gaza say more than two dozen children have already died from malnutrition and dehydration. The U.N. and others warn that many more will follow if more humanitarian aid isn’t allowed to enter the enclave.

Palestinians in Gaza have said in interviews that they have eaten animal feed and plants, and drank dirty water that they boiled to survive.

The escalating humanitarian crisis in Gaza has piled pressure on the Biden administration over its support for Israel, the U.S.’s foremost ally in the Middle East. Students have staged protests in support of Palestinians on the campuses of U.S. universities, and President Biden risks losing important swing states during the November election over concerns about his administration’s Middle East policy among Democratic voters.

Biden announced the U.S. plan to build a temporary pier during his March 7 State of the Union address. The proposed pier was a last-minute addition to the speech, defense officials said, and the Pentagon has been scrambling since to determine how to make the pier operational.

The U.S. and its Arab and European allies began ramping up humanitarian airdrops in March, but the efforts barely made a dent in Gaza’s hunger crisis. Even the biggest airdrops rarely match the 16.5 tons of aid that just one typical truck carries into Gaza from Egypt at less than one-tenth of the cost. Witnesses have reported airdrops falling on Palestinians and killing them.

More than 34,000 Palestinians, most of them women and children, have been killed since Oct. 7, according to Palestinian health authorities, whose numbers don’t distinguish between combatants and civilians. Hamas-led militants killed around 1,200 people in Israel, mostly civilians, on Oct. 7, according to Israeli authorities.

Around 190 trucks on average a day have entered Gaza from two southern crossings so far this month, according to a U.N. tracker. The figures don’t include several dozen trucks Israel that says have entered Gaza through a newly opened northern crossing.

Before the war, some 500 trucks entered Gaza every day.

The continued fighting, logistical challenges and movement restrictions imposed by Israel have impeded deliveries to people outside of Rafah of the limited humanitarian aid that enters Gaza. Several deadly incidents have also led to some humanitarian agencies to at times pause deliveries.

U.S. defense officials say around 200 trucks’ worth of aid a day could enter Gaza via the pier. There is already humanitarian aid in Cyprus that is set to be delivered through the pier, a former U.S. official said. The U.S. ships transporting the pier have also arrived in the region after weeks of travel, the Pentagon said.

Write to Nancy A. Youssef at and Omar Abdel-Baqui at

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