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U.S.-built Pier in Gaza Keeps Needing Repairs. Democrats Say They Can’t ‘Give Up’ on It.

Few viable alternatives exist to get much-needed aid to the region, lawmakers tell NOTUS.

Gaza Aid Pier AP-24149609530466
Rough seas and weather seriously damaged the pier less than two weeks into operation. AP

The U.S.-built temporary pier in Gaza underwent serious repairs within weeks of becoming operational, only to again get disconnected from the shore due to stormy weather. But Democrats in Congress say few alternatives are available to get more much-needed aid to the region.

“The international community is not getting enough humanitarian assistance into Gaza,” Sen. Ben Cardin, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, told NOTUS. “The pier is another option, to get humanitarian assistance in, we need all of the above. We need every one of them. Because we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.”

The temporary pier, operated by the Department of Defense, suffered another setback this week because of higher-than-expected seas. It’s the second time recently the pier has struggled to survive the Mediterranean Sea; within four weeks of initial operation, the pier had to be shut down and removed for repairs. It began offloading aid deliveries again last weekend.

But with limited options to get aid into the region, Democrats are backing Biden’s investment in the pier despite its issues. Bad weather and Israel’s air raids have made airlifting aid into Gaza unpredictable and at times impossible. Crossing points have sporadically been closed due to both Israeli military operations and terrorist threats. Extremist Israeli groups also have attacked convoys, destroying aid materials. Additionally, Hamas has intercepted and diverted aid trucks, per the State Department.

“We’ve seen some heroic efforts by airlift and some other ways that are not the most efficient way to get supplies into a country. I’m not ready to give up on any options,” Cardin said.

The stakes are too high, Democrats say.

“What we’ve got is a situation where individuals are starving and we’ve got to get the food in by any means necessary,” Rep. Gregory Meeks, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told NOTUS.

“If we know that’s not going to work, then you do it until such a time that you build whatever else or you create some other openings and negotiate with the Egyptians or the Israelis where there’s some other pathways to get something in,” Meeks said.

The Biden administration has cautioned against viewing the pier as a “silver bullet” to the Gaza’s worsening humanitarian crisis. The Defense Department told NOTUS last month USAID is responsible for developing alternative strategies to get aid into the region. USAID did not then respond to a request for specifics.

“The pier, of course, has challenges – weather is a major factor,” USAID Administrator Samantha Power said on CNN Thursday night. “But if we get the pier up and running and get proper throughput going through the maritime pier, that’s going to be enough food to feed 500,000 people for a month.”

Power said while land crossings are the first choice, “endless delays at checkpoints” and current Israeli military operations mean the aid coming in is “not meeting basic needs and that has to change.”

The Defense Department has praised the pier’s operation for bringing in more than 500 tons of food aid and for coming in under budget, even including the recent repairs.

Gaza’s sea levels routinely rise above the pier’s rated capability, as reported by NOTUS in late May.

Still, Democrats in both chambers and across committees see it as a passageway that needs continued support.

“The possibility that it could break was anticipated, but you know, they got it back going, back on track and it’s absolutely worth it,” Rep. Salud Carbajal told NOTUS.

An average 263 trucks entered Gaza every day during the last week of May, USAID said, which is “still far below the 600 trucks needed per day to address staggering humanitarian needs, including the threat of emerging famine.

”But come August the pier is expected to be shut down due to projections of worsened conditions in the Mediterranean Sea.

“They’ve already said because the weather gets bad, the seas get high, and it isn’t feasible to really use it at that point,” Rep. Adam Smith, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee told NOTUS.

Regardless of its cost, short-term-only use and limited output, the pier remains one of the U.S.’s few options for getting aid to Gaza. “Money is nothing compared to losing innocent lives,” Meeks said.

John T. Seward is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.