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Biden Administration Creates Humanitarian Sea Corridor for Gaza Amid Ongoing Israel-Hamas Conflict

A White House official informed reporters that the Biden administration’s maritime aid effort will collaborate with the government of Cyprus.

The Biden administration is pushing forward with plans to establish a sea route for delivering humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip amidst ongoing military operations by Israeli forces.

The U.S. military will supervise the creation of this maritime humanitarian corridor, starting with the setting up of a port along Gaza’s Mediterranean coast to facilitate the transport of larger cargo ships carrying essential supplies such as food, water, medicine, and temporary shelters to the besieged region.

President Joe Biden is expected to formally announce the maritime corridor project during his State of the Union address on Thursday evening. White House officials shared details of the plans for a maritime aid corridor in a pre-organized call prior to the president’s speech.

The Biden administration’s maritime aid initiative will also involve a partnership with the government of Cyprus. The Mediterranean island nation has previously offered the use of its Larnaca port for maritime aid transfers. Under the upcoming proposal, Israeli authorities will be able to inspect aid shipments bound for Gaza before they depart from the Cypriot port.

Humanitarian Challenges in Gaza

Israeli forces entered the Gaza Strip following a breach of the Gaza–Israel barrier by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7, 2023, resulting in a series of attacks that left over 1,100 dead and thousands injured. While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed a wartime objective to eliminate Hamas and free hostages taken during the Oct. 7 attacks, the ongoing conflict has had severe repercussions for Gaza’s civilian population.

Approximately 2 million Gazans have been displaced internally due to the fighting, with tens of thousands killed, injured, or missing.

A White House official mentioned that President Biden will address the tragic events of October 7th, Israel’s right to target Hamas and those responsible, as well as Israel’s obligation to protect innocent civilians in Gaza and address the humanitarian crisis there.

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The Biden administration’s move to establish this maritime aid corridor follows a recent tragic incident in northern Gaza where a humanitarian aid delivery turned deadly, resulting in as many as 100 casualties and several hundred injuries on Feb. 29.

The circumstances of the incident on Rashid Street are under dispute. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) acknowledged that IDF personnel near the aid delivery location fired warning shots in response to crowds of people surrounding the delivery trucks, looting vehicles, and trampling each other. The IDF attributed most of the deaths from the incident to trampling injuries. However, local doctors reported receiving dozens of patients with gunshot wounds following the incident on Feb. 29.

‘We’re Not Waiting on the Israelis’: White House Official

Following the Rashid Street incident, President Biden instructed the U.S. military to commence airdrops of humanitarian supplies into Gaza.

“The reality is that the aid reaching Gaza is insufficient and slow,” stated a second White House official on March 7. “The President will reiterate tonight the importance of increasing efforts, with the United States leading the way and utilizing all available channels to boost aid delivery to Gaza.”

The second White House official mentioned that at the Biden administration’s request, the Israeli government has agreed to open a new overland aid corridor into northern Gaza. Additionally, Israel will assist in enhancing the flow of humanitarian aid from Jordan to the Kerem Shalom crossing near the Gaza–Egypt–Israel border. Currently, around 48 aid trucks pass through the Jordan-to-Kerem Shalom route each week, with plans to increase capacity to 50 or more trucks per day through that crossing.
“However, we’re not reliant solely on the Israelis,” added the second White House official. “This is a moment for American leadership, and we are rallying a coalition of nations to address this urgent need.”

Onus on Hamas for Ceasefire: White House Official

The second White House official stressed the necessity of at least a temporary ceasefire to effectively address the urgent needs of Gaza’s civilian population and enable humanitarian partners to distribute life-saving aid safely and at the required scale.

President Biden had anticipated reaching a ceasefire agreement by this week, but he adjusted his expectations following the Rashid Street incident.

Ongoing discussions have revolved around the possibility of a six-week cessation of hostilities, contingent upon Hamas releasing more of the hostages taken on Oct. 7, 2023. In February, Hamas proposed a longer-term ceasefire plan involving the gradual release of hostages over a 4 1/2 month period, followed by Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and cessation of the conflict. Prime Minister Netanyahu dismissed the Hamas proposal as “unrealistic” and reaffirmed his commitment to continuing the conflict until Hamas is completely eliminated.

Currently, the Biden administration aims for a six-week pause in hostilities and the release of some hostages.

“The path to a ceasefire is clear. A ceasefire of at least six weeks could be achieved today if Hamas agrees to release a defined category of vulnerable hostages, including women, elderly, sick, and wounded individuals,” stated the second White House official on March 7. “This deal is on the table and has been for over a week. It would bring immediate relief to the people of Gaza and enable the critical humanitarian work that is necessary. The responsibility currently lies with Hamas.”

A delegation of Hamas negotiators traveled to Cairo to discuss the ceasefire proposal with Qatari and Egyptian representatives. However, the Hamas delegation left the Egyptian capital on March 7 without accepting the offer.

Accepting total defeat and surrender seems unacceptable to Hamas. On March 7, Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri accused the Israeli side of hindering ceasefire discussions by refusing to end its offensive in Gaza, withdraw its forces from the territory, and ensure the safe return of displaced individuals throughout the conflict.

Reuters contributed to this article.

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