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US to temporarily dismantle Gaza humanitarian pier again as heavy seas are expected

<i>US Central Command Public Affairs via CNN Newsource</i><br/>In this handout photo
US Central Command Public Affairs via CNN Newsource
In this handout photo

By Natasha Bertrand and Oren Liebermann, CNN

(CNN) — The US military will temporarily dismantle the humanitarian pier it constructed off the coast of Gaza and move it back to Israel on Friday night, amid concerns that heavy seas could once again break it just days after it resumed aid delivery operations, multiple US officials and US Central Command said.

It will be the second time in a matter of weeks that the fragile pier and causeway system, known as Joint Logistics over the Shore, or JLOTS, has had to be moved back to the Israeli port of Ashdod. It is a pre-emptive safety measure, a US official said, and aid operations across the pier will be suspended until sea conditions allow for it to be moved back into place.

Humanitarian aid deliveries across the pier continued for a full day on Friday, the official said, and it is expected to be detached and towed to Ashdod late Friday night local time.

“The decision to temporarily relocate the pier is not made lightly but is necessary to ensure the temporary pier can continue to deliver aid in the future,” CENTCOM said in a statement.

“After the period of expected high seas, the pier will be rapidly re-anchored to the coast of Gaza and resume delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza. Since May 17, over 3,500 metric tons (7.7 million pounds) have been delivered through the maritime corridor for onward delivery by humanitarian organizations,” CENTCOM continued.

To date, the pier has been used to move thousands of tons of aid into Gaza, officials have said, but it has been plagued with logistical issues since becoming operational in May.

Last month, rough seas caused four US Army vessels supporting the pier to break free from their moorings and wash ashore on Israeli beaches. Also last month, the pier broke apart and sustained damage in heavy seas and had to be towed to Ashdod for repairs that took over a week. It was moved back to Gaza last week and resumed operations on Saturday but had to pause again due to heavy seas on Sunday and Monday.

Officials have told CNN that sea conditions in the eastern Mediterranean will only worsen as fall and winter approach, raising questions about the pier’s realistic lifespan.

Meanwhile, the World Food Programme’s aid distribution operations at the pier have been suspended for days, and aid has been piling up in the staging area on the beach in Gaza, officials said this week.

The operations will remain paused pending a WFP risk assessment, which is ongoing after the Israel Defense Forces conducted operations near the pier Saturday as part of a hostage rescue operation. The presence of at least one Israeli helicopter so close to the pier led the US military to forcefully push back on any claims that it was used as part of the Israeli operation, reiterating that it is a humanitarian mission only.

Once the WFP assessment is completed, it will fall on the United Nations’ Department of Safety and Security and the humanitarian coordinator to make a decision on whether to resume operations at the pier.

Humanitarian officials say that while getting any assistance into the Gaza Strip is useful, the pier is not a long-term sustainable solution. The Israeli government for months refused to open additional land crossings for aid into Gaza, and only did so after immense pressure by the US government in recent months. Even with additional openings, major obstacles to distribution within the Gaza Strip remain,and humanitarian officials tell CNN that there is still not an effective deconfliction method to protect aid workers.

CNN reported on Thursday that the US military was considering dismantling the pier.

This headline and story have been updated with additional details.

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