US Army soldiers stand near an American flag as the USAV Wilson Wharf departs for an operation to construct a temporary port on Gaza's coast for the delivery of urgently needed aid AFP

Four US Army vessels departed a base in Virginia on Tuesday carrying about 100 soldiers and equipment they will need to build a temporary port on Gaza's coast for urgently needed aid deliveries.

The first -- a hulking gray-painted watercraft known as a Logistics Support Vessel -- slowly churned away from the pier at Joint Base Langley-Eustis as "The Imperial March" from "Star Wars" played over its loudspeaker system.

It was followed by three smaller vessels that will also make the roughly 30-day trip to the eastern Mediterranean for the port mission -- part of US efforts to boost assistance for Gaza as Israel delays deliveries of aid by ground.

The new facility -- which will consist of an offshore platform for transshipment of aid from larger to smaller vessels and a pier to bring it ashore -- is expected to be up and running "at the 60-day mark," US Army Brigadier General Brad Hinson told journalists.

"Once we get fully mission-capable, we will be able to push up to two million meals, or two million bottles of water, ashore each day," he said.

US officials have said the effort will not involve "boots on the ground" in Gaza, but American troops will come close to the beleaguered coastal territory as they construct the pier, which has to be anchored to the shore.

"I'm not going to go into the specifics of who we're working with in order to anchor the pier but we will have some assistance," said Hinson, who also declined to discuss security measures.

A total of some 500 troops from the 7th Transportation Battalion (Expeditionary) will take part in the operation, he said, describing it as "the premier watercraft unit in our Army."

"They can provide sustainment support over the water in austere environments. They are trained to do this, and they've gone on many exercises to be ready to provide this capability," Hinson said.

Gaza has faced relentless bombardment by Israel since Hamas launched a cross-border attack on October 7 that resulted in about 1,160 deaths, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

Israel's retaliatory operations in Hamas-controlled Gaza have killed 31,184 Palestinian, mostly women and children, according to the territory's health ministry.

The amount of aid brought into Gaza by truck has plummeted during five months of war, and Gazans are facing dire shortages of food, water and medicine.

The United States has carried out a series of airdrops to deliver aid this month, but the number of people in need of assistance in Gaza is much greater than can be fed by drops alone.