Updated Mar 7, 2024 - World

Biden to announce "emergency mission" to build port in Gaza for aid shipments

Biden at a podium

Biden speaks from the White House in Feb. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

President Biden will announce in his "State of the Union" speech on Thursday that he ordered the U.S. military to conduct an "emergency mission" to open up a maritime route for humanitarian assistance to Gaza.

Why it matters: The plan to establish a temporary port in Gaza is the most significant U.S. humanitarian initiative since the Israel-Hamas war began and shows the sense of urgency inside the White House over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

  • U.S. officials told reporters the temporary port will allow hundreds of trucks of aid to enter Gaza every day, though it will be at least a few weeks before it's operational.

Between the lines: The announcement is also a way for Biden to show to his critics inside the Democratic Party that he is taking more steps to address the crisis.

  • "The president asked us to look into all options for getting more aid to Gaza and not wait for the Israelis," a senior U.S. official said.

Details: Aid will arrive at the temporary port via Cyprus, U.S. officials said in a briefing with reporters ahead of the State of the Union.

  • The U.S. military will establish a temporary pier in the sea off the Gaza coast with a causeway that will allow trucks to bring aid to shore. National Security Council chief of staff Curtis Ried will head up the effort from the U.S. side.
  • U.S. soldiers will take part in the construction, but from U.S. Navy vessels offshore. "The current plan doesn't include any U.S. boots on the ground in Gaza," a senior U.S. official said.

Efforts were already underway to coordinate shipments by sea but the biggest complication was the lack of a deep-water port to enable big ships to dock and off load aid.

  • The aid will pass through security checks, with the involvement of Israeli security officials, to ensure it can't be used for military purposes.
  • Cypriot officials tell Axios they had been discussing a maritime humanitarian route to Gaza from the port of Larnaca with the U.S. and other countries for months.
  • An Israeli official told Axios Israel welcomes the initiative.

The announcement comes less than a week after the U.S. began airdropping aid into Gaza.

  • Biden is facing growing pressure abroad and at home to do more to restrain Israel, encourage a ceasefire, and get more aid in Gaza. The UN has warned "famine is almost inevitable" in Gaza if nothing changes.

What to watch: Biden is pressing for a ceasefire and hostage deal before Ramadan begins this weekend.

Worth noting: U.S. officials said they want the temporary port to turn into a commercial port over time.

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