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A new U.S. pier starts operations off Gaza. Advocates say the aid isn't nearly enough


The U.S. military has finally finished building a pier off the coast of Gaza to deliver aid. The first trucks rolled off today as humanitarian groups are warning that warehouses are empty in the southern city of Rafah. That is where Israeli ground forces have moved in. To discuss the situation in Gaza, we're joined by NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman - hey, Tom...


KELLY: ...And NPR international affairs correspondent Jackie Northam, who is in Tel Aviv. Hey there, Jackie.


KELLY: Tom, I'm going to let you kick us off. This pier has taken a little while to come together. President Biden announced he wanted to open it. That was back in his State of the Union address in March. It's finally up and running. How's it expected to work?

BOWMAN: Well, Mary Louise, this all starts on the island of Cyprus. Humanitarian aid is inspected by Israeli officials and loaded onto these massive cargo ships, which set sail to this temporary pier off Gaza. Then the aid is loaded onto smaller ships, which go to a second pier closer to land that has a causeway onto the beach. So trucks driven by contractors will drive along this causeway, where the U.N. will then take over and deliver the aid. Then the trucks will return to the pier, go back to the ship. And this process just continues in a loop.

The expectation is the pier will initially get up to 90 trucks per day before ramping up to 150 each day. The Israel Defense Forces will handle security on land - no U.S. troops on the ground in Gaza. And there are two what's called deconfliction cells manned by U.S. and Israel to make sure these trucks are properly identified and not mistakenly attacked, as we saw with the World Central Kitchen workers who were killed by an Israeli airstrike.

KELLY: Yeah.

BOWMAN: Now, there are concerns about this Gaza pier. The marshalling area on the beach already has been hit by mortar fire. One of the questions is, will massive numbers of desperate Gazans cluster near the marshalling area, causing delays in aid delivery?

KELLY: Jackie, step in here and talk about the impact. How much of a difference is this pier expected to make when you're dealing with, by all reports, impending famine in Gaza?

NORTHAM: It's not going to make a lot of difference, Mary Louise. You know, it's not going to prevent a famine. It's going to take a while to get a lot of trucks rolling across the causeway onto the Gazan coast. And even if they do get up to 150 trucks a day, as Tom mentioned, that really is a trickle of what's needed in Gaza. The World Food Program has said that their aid warehouses are empty. There's no food. Philippe Lazzarini, who heads up UNRWA, which is the main aid agency in Gaza, told NPR's Morning Edition today that it's just a matter of time before people begin to starve to death.

PHILIPPE LAZZARINI: There is no doubt about this. In the coming weeks, we will also have a new survey indicating the scope of the hunger and starvation in the Gaza strip. But clearly, if the crossing are not reopening in the days to come, we will be confronted again to starvation and looming famine.

NORTHAM: And, Mary Louise, as Lazzarini says, Israel needs to open up more borders to Gaza to get the aid in and especially the one in Rafah. It's been shut since Israel troops took over the border on May 6, and it was the key crossing for humanitarian aid. It's shut. And really, any humanitarian supplies that are shuttled from the pier into Gaza will be helpful, but it's not nearly enough. And, you know, the U.S. has acknowledged that.

KELLY: Let me shift gears a little bit and get an update from you, Tom, on where U.S. weapon shipments to Israel stand. We covered, of course, the news when President Biden paused the delivery of big bombs to Israel over concerns about its impending operation in Rafah. Israel still says it's going to go ahead with a full-scale offensive. What is the U.S. now saying about that - that Israel is promising to send even more troops into Rafah?

BOWMAN: Well, first of all, that delivery pause of 2,000-pound bombs was really just symbolic. Israel has some of those bombs in reserve designed to destroy tunnels where Hamas is hiding. Israel says there are four remaining Hamas battalions. Also, more U.S. military aid is heading to Israel, including more bombs and mortars. Now, the U.S. doesn't want what it calls a major military operation into Rafah. But how do you define that? I spoke with one retired four-star general who said it's really in the eye of the beholder. What the U.S. does want and is pressing this with Israel officials is what's called a sequenced operation. So you move people out, then move your troops in and then continue along those lines as you move into Rafah. Will the Israelis do that? We just don't know because they're not sharing their plans with the U.S., only providing this kind of broad brush - same with the humanitarian plan. They're not providing detail to the U.S., just saying, listen. We're moving people, but the U.S. wants details. OK, you're moving people. What about housing and food and medical needs? Very few answers at this point.

KELLY: Jackie, I will give you the last word, and I want to stay with these people who have been moved. We know more than half a million people have fled Rafah as Israel is ramping up there. Where are they all going?

NORTHAM: Well, they really have nowhere safe to go at this point, Mary Louise. Most of the 630,000 people who fled Rafah since this offensive started - they're going to so-called humanitarian zones. But it's really unclear where these are. There's a large one called Al Mawasi along the Mediterranean coast, but it's just bursting with displaced Palestinians. And now you've got the Israeli military going back into areas because they have to clear Hamas from there again. So you have more people packing up and having to find refuge. And people just really simply can't afford to leave. It costs too much. So they have no food, no shelter, and they're just stuck. They don't know where to go.

KELLY: That is NPR's Jackie Northam in Tel Aviv and NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman here in the studio with me. Thanks to you both for your reporting.

BOWMAN: You're welcome.

NORTHAM: Thanks very much, Mary Louise.

KELLY: And we're also following news today that the bodies of three hostages have been recovered from Gaza. The Israeli military says they were killed at the Nova Music Festival on October 7 and their bodies taken into Gaza. 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.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.
Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.