Satellite photos show US Navy ship building floating pier for Gaza aid as Israel-Hamas war rages


JERUSALEM (AP) — A U.S. Navy ship involved in an American-led effort to bring more aid into the besieged Gaza Strip is offshore from the enclave and building out a floating platform for the operation, according to satellite photos analyzed Monday by The Associated Press.

The USNS Roy P. Benavidez sits some 8 kilometers (5 miles) from the pier and base of operations for the project being built by the Israeli military.

A satellite image from Sunday by Planet Labs PBC showed pieces of the floating pier in the Mediterranean Sea alongside the vessel. Measurements of the vessel match known features of the Benavidez, a Bob Hope-class vehicle cargo ship operated by the Military Sealift Command.

The U.S. military and Israeli authorities did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the Benavidez’s position. Both sides have said they hope to have the mobile pier in place and operations underway by early May.

Under the plan by the U.S. military, aid will be loaded onto commercial ships in Cyprus to sail to the floating platform now under construction off Gaza. The pallets will be loaded onto trucks, which will be loaded onto smaller ships that travel to a metal, floating two-lane causeway. The 550-meter (1,800-foot) causeway will lead to shore.

The new port sits just southwest of Gaza City, a bit north of a road bisecting Gaza that the Israeli military built during the current fighting against Hamas. The area was the territory’s most populous region before the Israeli ground offensive rolled through and pushed over 1 million people south toward the city of Rafah on the Egyptian border.

Now Israeli military positions sit on either side of the pier, which initially had been built, as part of an effort led by World Central Kitchen, out of the rubble of buildings leveled by Israel. That effort halted after an Israeli airstrike killed seven World Central Kitchen aid workers on April 1 as they traveled in clearly marked vehicles on a delivery mission authorized by Israel. The organization says it is resuming its work in Gaza.

Aid has been slow to get into Gaza, with long backups of trucks awaiting Israeli inspections. The U.S. and other nations also have used air drops to send food into Gaza. American estimates suggest deliveries on the sea route initially will total about 90 trucks a day and could quickly increase to about 150 trucks daily.

Aid organizations have said several hundred such trucks are needed to enter Gaza every day.

In the aftermath of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people and saw 250 others taken hostage, Israel cut off or heavily restricted food, water, medicine, electricity and other aid from entering the Gaza Strip. Under pressure from the U.S. and others, Israel says the situation is improving, though United Nations agencies have said much more aid needs to enter.

Gaza, slightly more than twice the size of the city of Washington and home to 2.3 million people, has found itself on the precipice of famine. More than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the fighting began, local health authorities say.

On Sunday, Israeli military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari in a statement said the amount of aid going into Gaza would continue to scale up.

“This temporary pier will provide a ship-to-shore distribution system that will further increase the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza,” he said.

But high-ranking Hamas political official Khalil al-Hayya told the AP that the group would consider Israeli forces — or forces from any other country — stationed by the pier to guard it as “an occupying force and aggression,” and that the militant group would resist it.

On Wednesday, a mortar attack targeted the port site, though no one was hurt.

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