Biden to announce U.S. military mission to create new Gaza port

Senior U.S. officials said mounting concern about the situation in Gaza will be a major focus of Biden’s State of the Union address tonight


President Joe Biden holds a press conference following a solidarity visit to Israel, on October 18, 2023, in Tel Aviv, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

As the humanitarian situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate, President Joe Biden will announce in tonight’s State of the Union address that he will direct the U.S. military to lead an “emergency mission” establishing a port in Gaza on the Mediterranean coast to help aid reach Gaza, according to two senior Biden administration officials. 

The announcement comes as senior White House officials have for weeks been pressuring Israel to allow additional humanitarian assistance into Gaza, and as Biden has grown increasingly frustrated with Israeli leaders. The U.S. officials suggested that mounting concern about the situation in Gaza will be a major focus of the Middle East section of Biden’s address to Congress.

“We know that the aid flowing into Gaza is nowhere near enough and nowhere near fast enough,” one senior official said Thursday. “The President will make clear again this evening that we all need to do more, and that the United States is doing more, and we are seeking to use every channel possible to get additional assistance into Gaza.”

The president also plans to talk about “the horrific attacks of October 7, and Israel’s right to go after Hamas and those responsible,” the official said — as well as “Israel’s added burden, just given that Hamas hides and operates amongst the civilian population, Israel’s fundamental responsibility to protect innocent civilians in Gaza and also to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.” 

The U.S. will coordinate with the Israelis on the security requirements “on land” of the port, the U.S. official said, suggesting that Israel has agreed to the creation of the port.

“We worked very closely with the Israelis in developing this initiative, and they have worked very closely with the Cypriots now for months,” said the official. “We will work closely and sort out the details with them in terms of some of the security questions.” 

Once the aid is unloaded in Gaza, the U.S. plans to work closely with the United Nations “and other humanitarian partners” to distribute the aid. The officials said “this is foreseen to be an operation that won’t require U.S. boots on the ground” but declined to share further information about the logistics of the operation. 

Biden will also reiterate calls for a temporary cease-fire in Gaza, which the officials said is squarely in the hands of Hamas. 

“To really address the urgent needs of the civilian population in Gaza and to enable humanitarian partners to safely distribute life-saving aid throughout Gaza at the scale that is needed, it is essential that we see a temporary ceasefire in Gaza,” said one senior official, who noted that there has been a deal on the table for more than a week, awaiting Hamas’ sign-off. 

“The path to a cease-fire is straightforward. There could be at least a six week cease-fire today if Hamas would agree to release a defined category of vulnerable hostages,” said the U.S. official. “It would bring immediate relief to the people of Gaza. It would also create the conditions needed to enable the urgent humanitarian work that must be done. The onus right now is on Hamas.” 

The U.S. officials declined to say if they expect a deal to be in place by Ramadan, which begins on Sunday. But they pointed out that Hamas’ leaders have called for violence during the month-long holiday.

“We fully recognize — I think Hamas has said what their intentions might be,” said one official. “At the same time, we have worked out a deal that would bring massive relief to the people of Gaza and a cease-fire, and the terms of it are pretty clear.”

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