Biden orders US military to set up temporary aid port in Gaza

Gaza - President Joe Biden has ordered the US military to establish a temporary port in Gaza for aid deliveries, officials said Thursday, as famine warnings multiplied after five months of war.

Humanitarian aid falls over northern Gaza as seen from Israel's southern border with the Gaza Strip on Thursday.
Humanitarian aid falls over northern Gaza as seen from Israel's southern border with the Gaza Strip on Thursday.  © JACK GUEZ / AFP

Hopes dimmed for a new truce between Israel and Hamas before the start of Ramadan after Hamas negotiators left talks with mediators in Egypt to consult with the movement's leadership in Qatar.

The health ministry in Gaza reported 83 more people had been killed over the previous 24 hours, adding to a toll it says has reached 30,800, mostly women and children.

In the wasteland of Jabalia, northern Gaza, Palestinians gathered to receive meals at a distribution point.

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"There is no gas to cook our food on. There is no flour or rice," said Bassam al-Hou, standing beside large, blackened cooking pots among the rubble. He said children "are dying and fainting in the streets from hunger."

Biden was set to announce the aid harbor for Gaza in a keynote address to Congress later Thursday, officials said, in a sign of the political pressure he is facing over his steadfast support for Israel despite the worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

US officials acknowledged it would be a "number of weeks" before aid deliveries to the planned new port could begin but said the administration would not "be waiting on the Israelis."

"We're not waiting on the Israelis. This is a moment for American leadership," one official told reporters, in a sign of growing White House frustration with Israel's failure to allow more relief into Gaza.

The officials underlined that the announcement will not involve any US boots on the ground, as military personnel will stay offshore while allies manage onshore operations.

"This port, the main feature of which is a temporary pier, will provide the capacity for hundreds of additional truckloads of assistance each day," a senior administration official told reporters. US officials said the "significant capability will take a number of weeks to plan and execute" and would involve a maritime aid corridor from Cyprus.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen is expected in the Mediterranean island on Friday for talks on the planned corridor, which the Cyprus government has been pushing for months.

Hopes of a ceasefire before Ramadan dim

Displaced Palestinian women take care of their children inside a tent in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Thursday.
Displaced Palestinian women take care of their children inside a tent in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Thursday.  © MOHAMMED ABED / AFP

Biden had urged Hamas to accept a ceasefire plan with Israel before the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan begins, as early as Sunday, depending on the lunar calendar.

The proposed deal would pause fighting for "at least six weeks," see the "release of sick, wounded, elderly and women hostages," and allow for "a surge of humanitarian assistance," the White House said.

But on Thursday, Hamas's delegation voiced dissatisfaction with Israeli responses so far and left Cairo for consultations with the movement's leadership in Qatar.

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US Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew denied the talks had "broken down."

"The differences are being narrowed. It's not yet an agreement. Everyone's looking towards Ramadan, which is coming close. I can't tell you that it will be successful, but it is not yet the case that it is broken down," Lew said.

Israeli war cabinet member Gadi Eisenkot said Hamas was under "very serious pressure" from mediators to make a "counter-offer."

"Then it will be possible to advance it and take a position," he said.

As talks drag on, the United Nations has repeatedly warned that famine looms in the territory. By late January, the war had damaged around half of all buildings in Gaza and rendered the territory "uninhabitable" for its 2.4 million people, a UN agency said.

The health ministry on Wednesday said 20 people had died of malnutrition and dehydration, at least half of them children.

UN warns airdrops won't be enough to avert famine in Gaza

Activists from the Standing Together movement fill a truck with food aid in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on Thursday in a symbolic show of support for Palestinians.
Activists from the Standing Together movement fill a truck with food aid in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on Thursday in a symbolic show of support for Palestinians.  © JACK GUEZ / AFP

The US military said it carried out a fresh aid airdrop of aid into Gaza Thursday, its third in less than a week.

Jordan's military said aircraft from Belgium, Egypt, France, and the Netherlands had also taken part in the latest US-Jordanian operation.

The UN's World Food Program warned the volume of aid that could be airdropped would do nothing to avert famine in Gaza.

"In order to avert a famine, we need huge volumes of assistance. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of people. Airdrops are not an option for averting famine," said WFP Deputy Executive Director Carl Skau.

In the grey ruins of Khan Yunis, southern Gaza's largest city, dozens of people went to inspect their homes after Israeli forces pulled out of the city center, an AFP correspondent said.

Gaza's Civil Defense agency said Israeli forces "destroyed all water, sewage, electricity, communications, and road networks" in central Khan Yunis.

The army has yet to respond to an AFP request to confirm a withdrawal from the area.

Air raid sirens sounded in border areas of southern Israel late Thursday for the first time since Monday as Gaza militants showed they still retain the capacity to fire rockets at Israel.

Cover photo: Collage: JACK GUEZ / AFP & Nathan Howard / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

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