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US pier constructed off Gaza has broken apart

<i>US Central Command/Getty via CNN Newsource</i><br/>
US Central Command/Getty via CNN Newsource

By Oren Liebermann, Natasha Bertrand and Haley Britzky, CNN

(CNN) — The temporary pier constructed by the US military to transport aid into Gaza broke apart and sustained damage in heavy seas on Tuesday in a major blow to the American-led effort to create a maritime corridor for humanitarian supplies into the war-torn enclave, the Pentagon said.

The pier was “damaged and sections of the pier need rebuilding and repairing,” Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said on Tuesday. The pier will be removed from its location on the Gaza coast over the next 48 hours and taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod, where US Central Command will carry out repairs, Singh said. The repairs will take more than a week, further delaying the effort to get the maritime corridor fully operating.

Earlier, four US officials told CNN the pier broke apart in heavy seas.

Part of the pier, which consists of a narrow causeway to drive aid into Gaza and a wider parking area to drop off supplies transported by ship, disconnected on Sunday, the officials said. The parking area will have to be reconnected to the causeway before the pier can be used again.

The damage, first reported by NBC News, occurred three days after heavy seas forced two small US Army vessels to beach in Israel, according to US Central Command, while another two vessels broke free of their moorings and were anchored near the pier.

US troops who were aboard the beached vessels were evacuated on Saturday, Singh said on Wednesday, correcting her assertion on Tuesday that the soldiers were still aboard the vessels.

“[O]n May 25, heavy sea states caused four US Army vessels operating in support of the JLOTS pier operations to become beached. Two vessels were beached in Gaza near the base of the pier and two were beached near Ashkelon in Israel,” Singh said in a statement on Wednesday. “US personnel on those vessels were evacuated on Saturday, May 25.”

The pier, which cost $320 million, had only begun operating on May 17 when heavy seas forced the maritime shipments to stop one week later on May 24, two days before part of the pier disconnected. It is unclear when shipments will resume.

The temporary pier, called the Joint Logistics Over the Shore (JLOTS), requires very good sea conditions to operate. CNN reported previously that JLOTS can only be operated safely in a maximum of 3-foot waves and winds less than approximately 15 miles per hour.

Heavier sea conditions delayed the deployment of the pier for several weeks, as the system sat docked in the Israeli port of Ashdod waiting for favorable conditions.

The US has stressed that the temporary pier is only meant to augment humanitarian shipments going through the land crossings between Israel and Gaza.

On Thursday, Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, deputy commander of US Central Command, said 820 metric tons of aid had been delivered through the pier to the Gaza beach, where the United Nations was responsible for distributing it to the Palestinian population. The Pentagon said Thursday that more than 1,000 metric tons of aid had been delivered before the temporary pier had to halt operations.

Daniel Dieckhaus, the director of USAID’s Levant Response Management Team, told reporters Thursday that there were “thousands and thousands of tons” of aid waiting in Cyprus to be delivered through the maritime corridor. But those shipments are now paused with the temporary pier inoperable.

CNN’s Paul Murphy contributed reporting.

This story has been updated with additional details.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that the pier broke apart on Tuesday.

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