First aid enters Gaza via US-built pier

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - RAFAH, May 18 — The first trucks began supplying aid to war-ravaged Gaza from a temporary pier on Friday, the US military said, as fighting raged in the Palestinian territory.

US Central Command said “trucks carrying humanitarian assistance began moving ashore” via the long-awaited pier, a day after it was anchored to a Gaza beach.

“This is an ongoing, multinational effort to deliver additional aid to Palestinian civilians in Gaza via a maritime corridor that is entirely humanitarian in nature,” it said.

The US military issued pictures showing aid being lifted onto a barge in the nearby Israeli port of Ashdod, adding on social media platform X that no US troops went ashore.

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In the coming days, Central Command says, around 500 tonnes of aid is expected to be brought via the pier to Gaza, where the United Nations has warned of a looming famine.

The aid is being transported from Cyprus, the European Union’s easternmost member, about 360 kilometres (225 miles) from Gaza. The shipment includes EU supplies including 88,000 cans of food from Romania, the 27-member bloc said.

The EU welcomed the shipment but called on Israel to “expand deliveries by land and to immediately open additional crossings”.

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The UN has said repeatedly that overland deliveries are the only way of supplying aid in the volume needed.

But it welcomed the deliveries on Friday and said it had agreed to support the distribution of aid into Gaza from the floating dock.

Attacks on aid trucks

The plan to construct the pier was announced by US President Joe Biden in March, as Israel held up deliveries of aid on the ground, worsening Gaza’s dire humanitarian situation.

But aid deliveries have become increasingly complicated as the needs of Gazans grow.

Arab and Western governments ramped up airdrops of aid, but several people have been killed by falling crates or stampedes or drowned trying to retrieve packages from the Mediterranean.

And in the second such attack this week, the Israeli army said “dozens of Israeli civilians” set fire to a truck carrying Gaza-bound aid in the occupied West Bank on Thursday night.

Media outlets said Israeli settlers were behind the attack.

It came after right-wing activists ransacked at least seven Gaza-bound aid trucks from Jordan near the Tarqumya crossing with the West Bank on Monday.

The war erupted after the October 7 attack on Israel which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 35,303 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

Bodies of hostages recovered

Out of 252 people taken hostage from Israel, 125 are still being held inside Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.

The army said that late Thursday troops had recovered the bodies of three hostages in the war-torn Gaza Strip who had been “murdered” by their captors on October 7.

The Israeli citizens “were taken hostage during the Hamas massacre on October 7 and murdered” during the bloody attack on the Nova music festival, he added.

Overnight in Gaza, witnesses reported heavy fighting in the northern town of Jabalia and its adjacent refugee camp.

The Israeli army told AFP the renewed fighting in the town was “perhaps the fiercest” in more than seven months of war.

Witnesses reported Israeli helicopter strikes and shelling in and around the town’s refugee camp.

The bodies of six people were retrieved after a strike hit a house in Jabalia, Gaza’s civil defence agency said.

Witnesses also reported strikes on the southern city of Rafah, where Israeli forces have launched a ground incursion despite overwhelming international opposition, including from Washington.

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said on Thursday that “additional forces will enter” the Rafah area and “this activity will intensify”.

The looming Israeli assault has prompted nearly 640,000 of the 1.4 million people who had been sheltering in Rafah to flee to other areas, the UN humanitarian office said.

On Friday, 13 Western governments, including many traditionally supportive of Israel, appealed to it not to launch a large-scale Rafah offensive, warning it would have “catastrophic consequences” for civilians.

The United States evacuated 17 American doctors from Gaza Friday who had been trapped in the territory by Israel’s closure of the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, official sources said.

US diplomats arranged for the 17 doctors to leave instead through the Kerem Shalom crossing into Israel, a source familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity.

Palestine recognition gathers pace

On the diplomatic front, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan was headed to the region for weekend talks on the Gaza conflict.

Sullivan will meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Saturday and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said he will announce on Wednesday the date on which Madrid will recognise a Palestinian state along with several EU partners.

“I think on May 22... I shall be able to clarify before parliament the date on which Spain will recognise the Palestinian state,” Sanchez said.

The premier had said in March that Spain and Ireland, along with Slovenia and Malta, had agreed to take their first steps towards recognition of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, seeing a two-state solution as essential for lasting peace.

At the United Nations’ top court in The Hague, Israel hit back on Friday at allegations from South Africa that it has escalated a campaign of “genocide” with its military operation in Rafah.

“There is a tragic war going on but there is no genocide,” its lawyer Gilad Noam told the International Court of Justice. — AFP

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