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Gaza Pier Facing Latest Challenge      06/14 06:07

   The U.S.-built pier to bring food to Gaza is facing one of its most serious 
challenges yet -- its humanitarian partner is deciding if it can safely and 
ethically keep delivering supplies arriving by the U.S. sea route to starving 
Palestinians.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S.-built pier to bring food to Gaza is facing one 
of its most serious challenges yet -- its humanitarian partner is deciding if 
it can safely and ethically keep delivering supplies arriving by the U.S. sea 
route to starving Palestinians.

   The United Nations, the player with the widest reach delivering aid within 
Gaza, has paused its work with the pier after a June 8 operation by Israeli 
security forces that rescued four Israeli hostages and killed more than 270 
Palestinians.

   Rushing out a mortally wounded Israeli commando after the raid, Israeli 
rescuers opted against returning the way they came, across a land border, Rear 
Admiral Daniel Hagari, an Israeli military spokesman, told reporters. Instead, 
they sped toward the beach and the site of the U.S. aid hub on Gaza's coast, he 
said. An Israeli helicopter touched down near the U.S.-built pier and helped 
whisk away hostages and the commando, according to the U.S. and Israeli 
militaries.

   For the U.N. and independent humanitarian groups, the event made real one of 
their main doubts about the U.S. sea route: Whether aid workers could cooperate 
with the U.S. military-backed, Israeli military-secured project without 
violating core humanitarian principles of neutrality and independence and 
without risking aid workers becoming seen as U.S. and Israeli allies -- and in 
turn, targets in their own right.

   Israel and the U.S. deny that any aspect of the month-old U.S. pier was used 
in the Israeli raid. They say an area near it was used to fly home the hostages 
after.

   The U.N. World Food Program, which works with the U.S. to transfer aid from 
the $230 million pier to warehouses and local aid teams for distribution within 
Gaza, suspended cooperation as it conducts a security review. Aid has been 
piling up on the beach since.

   "You can be damn sure we are going to be very careful about what we assess 
and what we conclude," U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said.

   Griffiths told reporters at an aid conference in Jordan this week that 
determining whether the Israeli raid improperly used either the beach or roads 
around the pier "would put at risk any future humanitarian engagement in that 
operation."

   The U.N. has to look at the facts as well as what the Palestinian public and 
militants believe about any U.S., pier or aid worker involvement in the raid, 
spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters in New York.

   "Humanitarian aid must not be used and must not be perceived as taking any 
side in a conflict," Haq said. "The safety of our humanitarian workers depends 
on all sides and the communities on the ground trusting their impartiality."

   Rumors have swirled on social media, deepening the danger to aid workers, 
humanitarian groups say.

   "Whether or not we've seen the pier used for military purposes is almost 
irrelevant. Because the perception of people in Gaza, civilians and armed 
groups, is that humanitarian aid has been instrumentalized" by parties in the 
conflict, said Suze van Meegen, head of operations in Gaza for the Norwegian 
Refugee Council.

   Oxfam International and some other aid organizations said they are waiting 
for answers from the U.S. government because it's responsible for the 
agreements with the U.N. and other humanitarian groups on how the pier and aid 
deliveries would function.

   Questions include whether the Israeli helicopters and security forces used 
what the U.S. had promised aid groups would be a no-go area for the Israeli 
military around the pier, said Scott Paul, an associate director at Oxfam.

   The suspension of deliveries is only one of the problems that have hindered 
the pier, which President Joe Biden announced in March as an additional way to 
get aid to Palestinians. The U.S. has said the project was never a solution and 
have urged Israel to lift restrictions on aid shipments through land crossings 
as famine looms.

   The first aid from the sea route rolled onto shore May 17, and work has been 
up and down since:

   -- May 18: Crowds overwhelmed aid trucks coming from the pier, stripping 
some of the trucks of their cargo. The WFP suspended deliveries from the pier 
for at least two days while it worked out alternate routes with the U.S. and 
Israel.

   -- May 24: A bit more than 1,000 metric tons of aid had been delivered to 
Gaza from the pier, and the U.S. Agency for International Development later 
said all of it was distributed within Gaza.

   -- May 25: High winds and heavy seas damaged the pier and four U.S. Army 
vessels ran aground, injuring three service members, one critically. Crews 
towed away part of the floating dock in what became a two-week pause in 
operations.

   -- June 8: The U.S. military announced that deliveries resumed off the 
repaired and reinstalled project. The Israeli military operation unfolded the 
same day.

   -- Sunday: World Food Program chief Cindy McCain announced a "pause" in 
cooperation with the U.S. pier, citing the previous day's "incident" and the 
rocketing of two WFP warehouses that injured a staffer.

   "The WFP, of course, is taking the security measures that they need to do, 
and the reviews that they need to do, in order to feel safe and secure and to 
operate within Gaza," Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said this week.

   The pier has brought to Gaza more than 2,500 metric tons (about 5.6 million 
pounds) of aid, Singh said. About 1,000 metric tons of that was brought by ship 
Tuesday and Wednesday -- after the WFP pause -- and is being stored on the 
beach awaiting distribution.

   Now, the question is whether the U.N. will rejoin the effort.

   For aid workers who generally work without weapons or armed guards, and for 
those they serve, "the best guarantee of our security is the acceptance of 
communities" that aid workers are neutral, said Paul, the Oxfam official.

   Palestinians already harbored deep doubts about the pier given the lead role 
of the U.S., which sends weapons and other support to its ally Israel, said 
Yousef Munayyer, a senior fellow at Washington's Arab Center, an independent 
organization researching Israeli-Arab issues.

   Distrustful Palestinians suffering in the Israel-Hamas war are being asked 
to take America at its word, and that's a hard sell, said Munayyer, an American 
of Palestinian heritage.

   "So you know, perception matters a lot," he said. "And for the people who 
are literally putting their lives on the line to get humanitarian aid moving 
around a war zone, perception gets you in danger."

 
 
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