UN food agency warns that the new US sea route for Gaza aid may fail unless conditions improve

WASHINGTON — The UN World Food Program said on Tuesday that the new $320 million pier project to deliver aid to Gaza could fail unless Israel starts ensuring the conditions humanitarian groups need to operate safely. The operation was halted for at least two days after crowds looted aid trucks from the port and one Palestinian man was killed.

Deliveries were halted on Sunday and Monday after the majority of trucks in an aid convoy were stripped of all their goods on Saturday on their way to a warehouse in central Gaza, the WFP said. The first aid transported by sea had entered the besieged enclave on Friday.

The Pentagon said the movement of aid from the secure area at the port resumed on Tuesday, but the UN said it was not aware of any deliveries on Tuesday.

The UN food agency is now evaluating logistics and security measures and looking for alternative routes within Gaza, spokesman Abeer Etefa said. WFP is working with the U.S. Agency for International Development to coordinate deliveries.

Only five of the 16 emergency trucks that left the secured area on Saturday arrived at the targeted warehouse with their cargo intact, another WFP spokesman, Steve Taravella, told The Associated Press. He said the other 11 trucks were waylaid by what became a crowd of people and arrived without their loads.

“Without sufficient supplies entering Gaza, these problems will continue to surface. Community acceptance and confidence that this is not a one-time event are essential to the success of this operation,” Taravella said in an email. “We have raised this issue with the relevant parties and reiterated our request for alternative avenues to facilitate relief efforts. Unless we receive the necessary approval and coordination to utilize additional routes, this operation may not be successful.”

The WFP also said on Tuesday it has suspended food distribution in the southern Gaza city of Rafah due to a lack of supplies and insecurity.

President Joe Biden ordered the construction of the floating pier by the US military to deliver food and other essential supplies. Israeli restrictions on land border shipments and general fighting have plunged all 2.3 million Gazans into a serious food crisis since the war between Israel and Hamas began in October. US and UN officials say famine has developed in northern Gaza.

Authorities have provided limited details about what happened to Saturday’s aid convoy. However, an Associated Press video shows Israeli armored vehicles on a beach road, followed by emergency trucks driving along the road. Citizens watching from the side of the road gradually begin to climb onto the aid trucks and throw aid to the people below. Numbers of people then seem to overwhelm the emergency trucks and their goods.

At one point we see people dragging a motionless man with a chest wound through the crowd. A local mortuary later confirmed to the AP that the man had been killed by a gunshot. At another point, shots crackled and some men in the crowd apparently ducked behind aid boxes for cover.

It is not clear who fired the shots. The Israeli military is responsible for the safety of the aid when it reaches the coast. Once it leaves the secure area at the port, aid groups will follow their own safety protocols.

Asked about the shooting, the Israeli military told the AP, using the acronym for the Israel Defense Forces: “The IDF is currently focused on eliminating the threat from the terrorist organization Hamas.”

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters on Tuesday that the aid convoys do not travel with armed security. He said the best security comes from working with different community groups and humanitarian partners so that people understand there will be a constant flow of aid. “That is not possible in an active combat zone,” Dujarric said.

Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said that as of Tuesday, 569 tons of aid had been delivered to the secured area in Gaza’s port. However, some of it remains there as distribution agencies try to find alternative routes to warehouses in Gaza.

Asked whether aid from the pier has reached Gazans in need, Ryder said: “I don’t believe so.” He said aid had resumed from the secured area to Gaza on Tuesday, after a two-day halt following Saturday’s disruption. He gave no immediate details.

However, Etefa, the WFP spokesperson in Cairo, said on Tuesday that there had been no deliveries from the coast.

Biden announced the US mission to open a new sea route for humanitarian goods during his State of the Union address in March, as pressure mounted on the government over civilian deaths in Gaza.

The war began in October after a Hamas-led attack killed about 1,200 people in Israel. Israeli airstrikes and fighting have since killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, Gaza health officials say.

Many international humanitarian organizations were critical of the US project, saying that while all aid was welcome, bringing food through border crossings was the only way to curb the growing famine. Jeremy Konyndyk, a former USAID official who now heads the humanitarian organization Refugees International, called the pier operation “humanitarian theater” and said it was done for political effect.

The UN says some 1.1 million people in Gaza – almost half the population – face catastrophic levels of hunger and the area is on the brink of famine. The humanitarian aid crisis has spiraled in the two weeks since Israel launched an incursion into Rafah on May 6, vowing to wipe out Hamas fighters. Troops seized the Rafah border crossing into Egypt, which has since been closed.

Since May 10, only about three dozen trucks have entered Gaza through the nearby Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel as fighting makes it difficult for aid workers to reach Gaza, the UN says.

Taravella said little aid or fuel – needed to keep aid trucks moving – is currently reaching any part of Gaza, and supplies of both are nearly depleted.

“The bottom line is that humanitarian operations in Gaza are on the verge of collapse,” he wrote.


Magdy reported from Cairo. Lolita C. Baldor in Washington and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed.