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U.S. says the first shipment of aid has reached Gaza through its floating pier

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The U.S. has finished building the floating pier off of Gaza. The first trucks loaded with supplies and aid have moved ashore. The hope is that these deliveries will alleviate hunger in Gaza, where the U.N. says 1.1 million Palestinians face starvation. NPR's Hadeel Al-Shalchi joins us now from Tel Aviv. Hadeel, thanks so much for being with us.

HADEEL AL-SHALCHI, BYLINE: Thank you.

SIMON: Construction by the U.S. military began in April. This is a huge enterprise, isn't it?

AL-SHALCHI: It absolutely is. And just for some context, the pier is the size of five football fields, and it cost $320 million to build. It's floating off a beach in Gaza. So the idea is that when the trucks cross the pier, a U.N. agency in Gaza helps to coordinate the distribution while Israel is in charge of screening all the shipments. U.S. Central Command said that no U.S. troops crossed into Gaza and they were just there for logistical support. And just to remind you, Biden announced this pier during his State of the Union address after Israel was accused of not letting enough aid in by land. And this is all happening as the World Food Program says there's a real threat of famine in Gaza.

SIMON: Will this floating pier help solve that problem?

AL-SHALCHI: Well, it'll be something, but definitely not enough. The U.S. military says it wants to scale up for moving 90 trucks of aid a day to 150 into Gaza via the pier. But Scott Anderson, an official with the U.N. Agency of Palestinian Refugees, also known as UNRWA, told NPR that Gaza needs essentially three times that amount - 350 to 400 trucks a day - entering Gaza with the right cargo to meet the current needs. Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner general of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, told NPR's Steve Inskeep that the situation is urgent.

PHILIPPE LAZZARINI: So it will certainly help, but it will not be at scale enough to respond to the extraordinary needs of the population.

AL-SHALCHI: And then actually distributing the aid in a war zone is very difficult, so that's an added level of complexity.

SIMON: And the Israeli military has been bombarding Rafah in Gaza, the southern city, and also dropped leaflets telling people in Rafah to evacuate because more troops will be sent in. How many people do we know are in Rafah still?

AL-SHALCHI: So the U.N. says that more than 630,000 Palestinians have fled Rafah. That's about half of the number of the people who were sheltering there. They're heading to other cities that have already been devastated by the war. They're overcrowded. They're squalid. They already have very little resources. And a lot of people just don't have anywhere to go. Even if they could, some say logistics and the cost would be too much. Keep in mind that some of these people have already moved once or multiple times before. Our producer in Gaza, Anas Baba, spoke to nurse Aya Kaferna (ph), who said that she just couldn't afford to leave.

AYA KAFERNA: (Non-English language spoken).

AL-SHALCHI: She says that it could cost her up to $500 to evacuate, and she just doesn't have that kind of money.

SIMON: There was also news on Friday - the Israeli military announced they had recovered the bodies of three Israeli hostages taken by Hamas. What do we know about that?

AL-SHALCHI: Yeah. In a statement, the Israeli military identified the three Israeli hostages, and military spokesperson Daniel Hagari said that the three were actually killed at the Nova Music Festival on October 7, and their bodies were taken into Gaza. So now this brings the number of hostages in Gaza to 129. Thirty-nine of them are confirmed dead, according to Haaretz, an Israeli news outlet. And tonight, the families of the hostages will be holding what they're calling an international rally in Tel Aviv, and a number of Western ambassadors, including the U.S., the U.K. and Germany, will be attending.

SIMON: NPR's Hadeel Al-Shalchi in Tel Aviv. Thanks so much.

AL-SHALCHI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Hadeel Al-Shalchi
Hadeel al-Shalchi is an editor with Weekend Edition. Prior to joining NPR, Al-Shalchi was a Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press and covered the Arab Spring from Tunisia, Bahrain, Egypt, and Libya. In 2012, she joined Reuters as the Libya correspondent where she covered the country post-war and investigated the death of Ambassador Chris Stephens. Al-Shalchi also covered the front lines of Aleppo in 2012. She is fluent in Arabic.