The Latest | Biden says temporary pier in Gaza will boost aid deliveries as hopes for truce dim

U.S. President Joe Biden Biden said Thursday night the U.S. military will help establish a temporary pier on the coast of Gaza as a way to boost the delivery of aid for Palestinians trapped in the besieged territory by the Israel-Hamas war.

He unveiled the plan during his State of the Union address to Congress. The move comes after Biden last week approved the U.S. military airdropping aid into Gaza.

Biden said the temporary pier ”will enable a massive increase in humanitarian assistance getting into Gaza.”

But at the same time he called on Israel to do more to alleviate the suffering of Palestinians even as its forces try to eliminate the Hamas militant group.

“To Israel, I say this humanitarian assistance cannot be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip,” Biden said.

The plans follow an announcement by Hamas that negotiations over a cease-fire in Gaza and the release of more Israeli hostages will resume next week, dimming hopes that mediators could broker a truce before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is expected to begin at sundown Sunday..

After nearly five months of war, much of Gaza is in ruins, and international pressure is growing for Israel and Hamas to reach a deal that would halt the fighting and release the remaining Israeli hostages held by Hamas.

Israel’s near-total blockade of Gaza and the fighting have made it nearly impossible to deliver supplies in most of Gaza, aid groups say. Many of the estimated 300,000 people still living in northern Gaza have been reduced to eating animal fodder to survive.

Israel launched its offensive after Hamas-led militants stormed across the border on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducting around 250. Over 100 hostages were released in November in exchange for 240 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

The number of Palestinians killed has climbed above 30,700, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. It does not differentiate between civilians and combatants in its figures but says women and children make up around two-thirds of the total casualties. It says over 72,000 people have been wounded.


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Here’s the latest:


UNITED NATIONS — U.N. humanitarian officials say that in February half of the 224 missions they planned for delivering aid to areas in the Gaza Strip where coordination with Israeli authorities is required got it and succeeded — and half did not.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Thursday that the U.N. paused opertions in north Gaza following Israeli naval fire that hit a U.N.-coordinated food convoy heading there Feb. 5. As a result, he said, only 24 U.N. aid missions to the besieged north were planned in February — and just six were facilitated by Israeli authorities.

By contrast, Dujarric said, of the 200 U.N. missions planned for areas south of Wadi Gaza where access required coordination, 105 were facilitated by Israeli authorities.

The U.N. spokesman said humanitarian workers in Gaza face risks from the hostilities between Israel and Hamas including bombings.

Despite the many challenges, he said, last week 19 of the U.N.’s humanitarian partners provided health services to some 80,000 patients and over a dozen World Health Organization teams treated 13,000 patients. He issued an urgent appeal for tents, tarpulins, blankets, bedding and other shelter supplies.


UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. official trying to spur the delivery of humanitarian supplies to more than 2 million Palestinians in Gaza is welcoming air drops and the prospect of more sea deliveries. But she says the most critical need is to open more land entries into the territory.

Sigrid Kaag, the senior humanitarian and reconstruction coordinator for Gaza, told reporters late Thursday that air and sea deliveries cannot substitute for expanding and diversifying supply routes on land.

“It’s easier, it’s faster, it’s cheaper, particularly if we know that we need to sustain humanitarian assistance to Gazans for a long period of time,” she said, speaking after briefing the U.N. Security Council behind closed doors. “We need to flood the market in Gaza with humanitarian goods as well as re-energize the private sector so commercial goods can be entering in to really meet the needs of civilians.”

But Kaag said that“it’s been made very clear to me from the outset that there is little willingness” by the Israeli Cabinet to open more crossings. She pointed to Israel domestic concerns, demonstrations at crossings, and the absence of a deal to release Israeli hostages seized during Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack in southern Israel.

Nonetheless, Kaag said, from her conversations she expects additional crossings to be opened and will continue urging the Israelis to do so because the goal is to expand the volume and quality of aid to Gaza.

She called the air drops of aid “a symbol of support for the civilians in Gaza,” but said that “it’s a drop in the ocean.”

Kaag said she has welcomed plans for a maritime corridor from Cyprus to Gaza, backed by a coalition that she expects the United States and other countries to be joining to accelerate its establishment.

She said the Americans may be building a temporary port “with a view to provide for that much urgent humanitarian assistance and the scale-up that’s needed particularly to reach the north,” where the humanitarian crisis is especially dire, she said.

“At the same time, I cannot but repeat, air and sea is not a substitute for land,” she said. However, the additional aid “at this critical juncture will be very important.”


JERUSALEM — Israel’s police force said Thursday that Israelis will be allowed to visit the Al-Aqsa compound during the first week of Ramadan, raising concerns about the access for Palestinians to the revered site during the holy month.

Al-Aqsa has often been the site of Palestinian protests and clashes with Israeli police, especially during times of high tension like the current war between Israel and Hamas.

Palestinians from the occupied West Bank have been unable to visit Jerusalem under Israeli government restrictions put in place immediately after an Oct. 7 Hamas attack in southern Israel killed 1,200. Israel’s invasion of Gaza in response has killed more than 30,000 people.

The Al-Aqsa mosque is the third holiest site in Islam. Jews consider the compound the most sacred site in Judaism and refer to it as the biblical Temple Mount.

Earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the same number of people as last year would be allowed to enter the Al-Aqsa mosque compound for prayers during the first week of Ramadan and that this would be evaluated “on a week-to-week basis” throughout the holy month. The statement did not say who would be allowed onto the compound.

In 2023, over 289,000 Palestinians from the West Bank visited Jerusalem for Ramadan prayers, according to Israeli authorities.

The Israeli police did not respond to The Associated Press’ request to clarify the restrictions.

Ramadan is expected to start Sunday but depends on the sighting of the crescent moon.


BEIRUT — A report by an independent research organization in The Netherlands confirmed that Israeli tank fire killed a Reuters videographer and wounded six other journalists in southern Lebanon last October.

The journalists were covering cross-border clashes between Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group and Israeli forces on Oct. 13, just days after the eruption of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, when an Israeli tank shell landed among them.

The Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research, TNO, said that after two ammunition rounds struck the area where the journalists were working, “arms fire and bullets whizzing through the air were heard.” It said the two ammunition rounds were 37 seconds apart.

The report by TNO, which was contracted by Reuters to analyze evidence from southern Lebanon clashes on Oct. 13, was released Thursday. It said the Israeli fire in the attack lasted 1 minute and 45 seconds.

Israeli officials have said that they do not deliberately target journalists. Israel did not immediately comment on the Dutch group’s findings.

In December, international human rights organizations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said Israeli strikes that killed and wounded the journalists on Oct. 13, were apparently deliberate and a direct attack on civilians.

The strikes killed Issam Abdallah and wounded Reuters journalists Thaer Al-Sudani and Maher Nazeh, Qatar’s Al-Jazeera television cameraman Elie Brakhya and reporter Carmen Joukhadar, as well as AFP’s photographer Christina Assi and video journalist Dylan Collins.

Assi, who was seriously wounded, was discharged from Beirut’s American University Medical Center earlier this month, after nearly five months of treatment.


CAIRO — Egyptian officials say negotiations over a cease-fire in Gaza have reached an impasse over Hamas’ demand for a phased process culminating in an end to the war.

The U.S., Egypt and Qatar have been trying for weeks to broker an agreement on a six-week cease-fire and the release of 40 hostages held in Gaza in exchange for Palestinians imprisoned in Israel.

The officials said Thursday that Hamas has agreed on the main terms of such an agreement as a first stage, but wants commitments that it will lead to an eventual, more permanent cease-fire.

Hamas has said it will not release all of the remaining hostages without a full Israeli withdrawal from the territory. Palestinian militants are believed to be holding around 100 hostages, and the remains of 30 others, captured during Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack into Israel that triggered the war.

Hamas is also demanding the release of a large number of prisoners, including top militants serving life sentences, in exchange for the remaining hostages.

Israel has publicly ruled out those demands, saying it intends to resume the offensive after any cease-fire with the goal of destroying Hamas.

The Egyptian officials say Israel wants to confine the negotiations to the more limited agreement. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the negotiations with the media.

Both officials said mediators are still pressing the two parties to soften their positions.

The mediators had hoped to reach a deal before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is expected to begin Sunday. The month of dawn-to-dusk fasting often sees Israeli-Palestinian tensions rise over access to a major holy site in Jerusalem.

— By Samy Magdy in Cairo.


COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Norway’s government on Thursday urged Norwegian companies to avoid trade and business activities that contribute to maintaining illegal Israeli settlements. Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide said that “for years, Norway has been clear that the settlement policy in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is in violation of international law, including humanitarian law and human rights.”

“Norwegian businesses should be aware that, through economic or financial activity in the Israeli settlements in violation of international law, they risk contributing to violations of international humanitarian law or human rights,” Barth Eide said.

He said that last year “was also the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since the UN began recording. I repeat that the injustice to which the Palestinians are subjected must stop.”


BEIJING — China’s foreign minister is demanding that other members of the U.N. Security Council stop blocking the Palestinian territories from becoming a member of the United Nations.

Wang Yi reiterated China’s call for a major international conference to draw up a roadmap and timetable for a two-state solution.

“We support Palestine becoming a full member of the United Nations and call on individual members of the Security Council not to set obstacles for this anymore,” he said Thursday at a news conference during the annual meeting of China’s legislature.

Zhang Jun, China’s U.N. ambassador, said in January that his country supports U.N. membership for the Palestinian territories as a first step toward the creation of a Palestinian state. The Security Council needs to send a clear and unequivocal signal, reaffirming the urgency of the two-state solution as the sole feasible way out, he was quoted as saying by China’s official state media.

China, one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, backed the Palestinian territories becoming a U.N. member in a joint statement issued last June during a state visit to China by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

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