Pentagon: Building of temporary harbour in Gaza Strip has begun

President of Egypt Abdel Fattah El-Sisi is pictured in Cairo. Michael Kappeler/dpa Pool/dpa
President of Egypt Abdel Fattah El-Sisi is pictured in Cairo. Michael Kappeler/dpa Pool/dpa
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The US military has started helping to build a temporary harbour off the coast of the Gaza Strip to bring food, water and medicine to the territory, a spokesman said on Thursday, amid fears of famine in the territory.

US ships are involved, Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder told reporters, adding that "I think, indications now are realistically, early May" for the harbour to be ready.

In the meantime, work is continuing with the international community to bring aid supplies to the Gaza Strip via other routes, Ryder said.

The US government announced at the beginning of March that it intended to help set up a temporary harbour to bring food, water and medicine to the war zone in view of the humanitarian emergency in the Palestinian territory.

The US plan was to build a floating pier off the coast where commercial ships carrying relief supplies could dock. The goods would then be transferred to other ships and taken to a floating dam. They would then be unloaded there.

The US recently called on its ally Israel to rapidly expand aid deliveries for the civilian population, amid a risk of famine in Gaza.

The Gaza war was triggered by the unprecedented massacre with more than 1,200 deaths that militants from the Palestinian Hamas movement and other Islamist groups carried out in Israel on October 7.

Israel responded with massive airstrikes and a ground offensive, leading to a soaring number of civilian casualties and catastrophic conditions.

That has led to growing criticism of Israel internationally and pressure to let more humanitarian aid enter Gaza, where the situation is catastrophic. Aid groups say more than a million people are at risk of starvation.

According to Israeli reports, unknown assailants fired mortar shells at the temporary harbour site during a visit by UN employees. Palestinian Islamist militants were suspected.

Ryder spoke of reports that a few shells had been fired at the site but said this had no influence on the construction plans and happened before the US military had started work.

Ryder again made it clear there are no plans for US forces to enter the Gaza Strip itself, which has been under siege from Israel for months following a terrorist attack inside the Jewish state.

Israel's COGAT agency for coordinating government activity in the Palestinian territories said "terrorists" had been behind the attack, which occurred as UN personnel were at the site on Wednesday.

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) troops had ushered the UN personnel into safe spaces, it said. Who was behind the attack could not immediately be established.

Meanwhile as Israel prepares for a military operation in Rafah by Gaza's border with Egypt, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi rejected the displacement of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip.

Cairo is worried that a planned push into the southern border city, the last remaining Hamas stronghold in Gaza after months of Israeli raids in the north and centre of the coastal strip, would trigger a mass exodus into Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

"Egypt has adopted a clear stance since the first minute [of the war] totally rejecting the forced migration of Palestinians from their lands to Sinai or any other place in order to preserve the Palestinian cause from liquidation and safeguard Egypt's national security," al-Sissi said in a televised address.

Israel launching an offensive on Rafah will have "catastrophic consequences" on the humanitarian situation in Gaza and on regional peace and security, according to an Egyptian presidential statement.

Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, but Israel's Gaza military campaign has inflamed popular feelings in the world's biggest Arab nation.

Rafah is the last holdout for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fleeing the ongoing war, in which almost 35,000 Palestinians have died.

Some 150,000 to 200,000 Palestinian civilians have left Rafah since April 7, the Jerusalem Post reported on Thursday, citing the army.

An Israeli military operation in Rafah will exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian enclave according to aid agencies.

But Israel's Kan radio reported on Thursday that the Jewish state is making arrangements to try to limit the loss of life after widespread Western pressure.

The assault will begin with an evacuation of civilians that could last up to five weeks. In this first phase of the ground operation, civilians in Rafah will be moved to safer locations, the report said.

Israel's allies and critics have for months implored Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to call off the invasion of Rafah, fearing mass civilian casualties.

More than 1 million displaced Palestinians from other parts of the Gaza Strip have taken shelter there. Rafah also is the site of the main crossing through which aid enters the territory.

Despite the pressure being piled on Israel, the government argues it must move ahead with the ground operation in order to achieve its goal of crushing Hamas.