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US pauses shipping, plans to stockpile aid after ‘deadly day’ in Gaza

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A key section of the US military-built pier designed to carry badly needed aid into Gaza by boat has been reconnected to the Gaza beach following storm damage repairs and aid will begin to flow soon, the US Central Command announced on Friday. Photo / AP

The US military said on Monday that it plans to stockpile aid shipments on a secure beach in Gaza during a UN pause on distributing food from the American-built pier after one of the deadliest days of the Israel-Hamas war.

The UN World Food Programme, which works with US officials to transfer desperately needed aid from the month-old pier to warehouses and local relief teams in Gaza, tweeted on Monday that the UN would conduct a security review to assess the safety of its staff in handling aid deliveries from the pier. It said the pause would be temporary.

A humanitarian official familiar with the situation said the security review is expected to conclude within a few days and UN officials would then make decisions on resuming operations. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss planning.

The pause, which WFP head Cindy McCain first announced in a TV interview Sunday, is the latest trouble to hit the Biden administration’s new sea route for bringing in aid to Palestinians. It also signals sharpened concern by the UN and relief organisations about their ability to safely care for Gaza’s civilians during the eight-month-old war.

The review follows an Israeli military operation on Saturday that rescued four Israeli hostages taken by Hamas on October 7, in the attack that triggered the war, and left 274 Palestinians and one Israeli commando dead.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said “it’s only normal” that UN humanitarian officials pause and review the security situation following the Israeli operation. McCain said Sunday that two of WFP’s warehouses had been “rocketed” and a staffer injured.

When such large-scale military operations take place, Dujarric said, “you can only imagine the difficulties in distributing the aid, both for the safety of those who are trying to get it and those who are trying to distribute it.”

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, said the delivery of aid from Cyprus to the pier was paused due to high seas Sunday and Monday but would resume on Tuesday. He said there is enough space for aid to be stored in a secure holding area on the beach until agencies restart distribution into Gaza.

“It’s a pretty large area,” he told reporters. “I think we can continue to stockpile aid in the assembly area for onward distribution.”

The pause came just a day after the US military and the US Agency for International Development, which is co-ordinating logistics with relief groups, said on Saturday that the pier restarted operations after repairs. Part of the structure broke apart in rough seas and bad weather late last month.

In this photo provided by US Central Command, humanitarian aid arrives in Gaza on June 8. Photo / AP

Saturday’s fighting, followed by the pause for the security review, blocked the planned distribution of aid from the pier, the humanitarian official said.

President Joe Biden ordered the US military to construct the pier in March, in the hope of carving out an alternative aid route as the fighting and Israeli restrictions sharply limit shipments through land borders. But rough seas in the Mediterranean, insecurity within Gaza and a surge in fighting since early May mean the pier, completed in mid-May, has been able to operate for only about a week.

Ryder, pushing back against claims on social media, denied that any aspect of the pier or its equipment had been used in Saturday’s military operation. The Pentagon says an area south of the pier was used for the return of the freed hostages back to Israel.

“Particularly in this environment, given what you’re seeing play out in the Israel-Hamas conflict, there is a lot of misinformation and disinformation about what US forces are or are not doing,” he told reporters.

Ryder said the US did an air drop of more than 10 metric tons of ready-to-eat meals Sunday.

US and international officials and private aid organizations say only a steady daily flow of hundreds of truck shipments through land borders can address the need for food and emergency aid in Gaza. More than 1 million people there are facing famine and all 2.3 million are struggling for food.

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