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U.S. says military pier will increase aid to Gaza. Humanitarian groups have doubts

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

A vessel carrying aid to a floating pier off the coast of Gaza set sail from Cyprus yesterday.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

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U.S. officials say the American-built pier will help to increase the flow of aid into the war zone where 2.3 million people live. Aid groups are questioning the value of this plan. The U.S. is setting up the floating pier because its ally Israel has closed the land crossings into Gaza through which food and supplies would normally flow.

FADEL: And to tell us more, we're joined by NPR's Jane Arraf. Hi, Jane.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So we've been hearing about this pier for a while. The U.S. has said it will help address what the U.N. and aid groups call increasing famine in Gaza. Tell us what's happening with it.

ARRAF: Well, the U.S. military says that components of the pier are waiting at an Israeli port to be assembled. Bad weather has delayed it, but the Pentagon says it could be in operation as early as next week. U.S. officials say a ship loaded with food will offload onto a smaller vessel in Israel, and then it will head back to Cyprus for more aid. It's carrying about 170 tons, enough to feed 11,000 people for a month. And to put that number in perspective, Leila, as you noted, Gaza has more than 2 million people in it. After seven months of war, almost all of them are dependent on aid.

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FADEL: So clearly, not enough - so much need. And there's a lot of criticism from aid groups. But is this a situation where every little bit helps? I mean, why are they so frustrated with this approach?

ARRAF: Well, essentially, it comes down to how much you can truck in through those existing land borders versus how much you can airdrop or send by sea. Israel says it needs to restrict the crossings to prevent Hamas from bringing weapons in, but aid officials say malnutrition and disease are now rampant. Aid officials operating in Gaza this week gave an unvarnished view of the pier. One at a press briefing called the pier a joke. And here's another, pediatrician John Kahler, co-founder of MedGlobal.

JOHN KAHLER: This is like a lab of malnutrition. You can see the food all up and down the corridor. And you don't need any silly piers or silly airdrops. You need the damn gates open.

ARRAF: Another medical aid official pointed out that the pier, according to the U.S., will cost $320 million. That would buy a lot of truckloads of aid. And she called a plan to use contractors to distribute the aid the privatization of aid efforts. And aid groups also point out Israel will use the same cumbersome inspection process for the pier. They say what's lacking isn't the resources or the aid, but the political will to get it in.

FADEL: And about that political will, I mean, publicly, there is a widening gap between President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. How much of that is affecting the humanitarian crisis we're seeing?

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ARRAF: Quite a lot. In April, after an Israel airstrike killed seven members of the U.S.-based World Central Kitchen in Gaza, the U.S. received commitments from Israel that it would reopen a border crossing and allow more aid in through two existing ones. And while the number of trucks going in increased briefly, Israel has now stopped all aid through the main Rafah crossing from Egypt to Gaza. So aid workers are seeing the effect of malnutrition and the lack of medical supplies increasingly compounded with traumatic injuries. We have to remember that both Biden and Netanyahu are balancing different factions of political support at home.

FADEL: Right.

ARRAF: For the first time, the U.S. has publicly held up some weapons shipments, but aid groups say that's not nearly as much leverage as the U.S. could exert to get in more aid.

FADEL: That's NPR's Jane Arraf. Thank you, Jane.

ARRAF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel
Leila Fadel is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Jane Arraf
Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.