Monday meet with Gantz expected to include similar criticism

Urging 6-week ‘ceasefire,’ US VP Harris says Israel not doing enough to get aid to Gaza

‘People are starving. Conditions are inhumane’: In harshest comments by administration, vice president slams ‘unnecessary restrictions’ on relief, tells Hamas to accept truce terms

US Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at an event in Selma, Alabama, on March 3, 2024. (SAUL LOEB / AFP)
US Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at an event in Selma, Alabama, on March 3, 2024. (SAUL LOEB / AFP)

US Vice President Kamala Harris bluntly called out Israel on Sunday for not doing enough to ease a “humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza and called for an extended pause in hostilities to be implemented immediately, as the Biden administration faces increasing pressure to rein in its close ally.

Harris’s call for an “immediate ceasefire” won loud cheers from the crowd even as she clarified that she was referring to a cessation of hostilities as part of a deal that would free hostages kidnapped from southern Israel by the Hamas terror group some five months ago.

“Given the immense scale of suffering in Gaza there must be an immediate ceasefire,” Harris said to raucous applause. “For at least the next six weeks, which is what currently is on the table.”

“Hamas claims it wants a ceasefire. Well, there is a deal on the table. And as we have said, Hamas needs to agree to that deal,” Harris said. “Let’s get a ceasefire. Let’s reunite the hostages with their families. And let’s provide immediate relief to the people of Gaza.”

Her remarks were consistent with long-standing US policy that the best way to secure a truce is through a hostage deal, but reflected the White House’s increasing willingness to support rhetoric backing a halt to Israel’s offensive even if Jerusalem’s goal of eliminating the Hamas terror group remains unrealized.

Harris, speaking in front of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, where state troopers beat US civil rights marchers nearly six decades ago, directed the bulk of her comments at Israel in what appeared to be the sharpest rebuke yet by a senior leader in the US government over the conditions in the coastal enclave.

Palestinians sell canned food in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza on March 3, 2024. (AFP)

“People in Gaza are starving. The conditions are inhumane and our common humanity compels us to act,” Harris said at an event to commemorate the 59th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” in Alabama. “Our hearts break for… all the innocent people in Gaza who are suffering from what is clearly a humanitarian catastrophe.”

Her comments underlined intense frustration within the US government about the war, which has hurt President Joe Biden with left-leaning voters as he seeks re-election this year.

“The Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid. No excuses,” she said. “They must not impose any unnecessary restrictions on the delivery of aid.  They must ensure humanitarian personnel, sites, and convoys are not targeted.”

Harris added that Israel also needed to work to restore basic services and promote order so that “more food, water and fuel can reach those in need.”

A Palestinian man transports sacks of humanitarian aid at the distribution center of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 3, 2024. (AFP)

The comments came a day before Harris is set to meet with war cabinet minister Benny Gantz at the White House, where she is expected to deliver a similarly direct message.

The United States carried out its first air drop of aid in Gaza on Saturday.

Israel boycotted Gaza ceasefire talks in Cairo on Sunday after Hamas rejected its demand for a complete list naming hostages that are still alive, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel on Sunday.

Several Hebrew media outlets reported growing pessimism in Israel on Sunday that a hostage and truce deal can be reached before Ramadan. Unnamed officials cited by Channel 12, Ynet and others said Jerusalem suspects Hamas’s Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar has no intention of reaching an agreement in the coming days and hopes to escalate violence over Ramadan, which is expected to start March 10.

This picture taken from a position in southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip shows Israeli vehicles returning from Gaza on March 3, 2024. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

The Axios news site reported Sunday that US President Joe Biden was pushing Egypt and Qatar to get Hamas to agree to a temporary ceasefire deal before Ramadan.

Two US officials quoted in the report said that Biden, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi “agreed the onus is currently on Hamas to close remaining gaps in the package.”

On Sunday afternoon, a Hamas official told CNN that the group will not agree to a deal without Israel consenting to an end to the war in Gaza, a non-starter for Israel.

Speaking to troops on the Gaza border on Sunday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Israel will not end the war in until Hamas is completely dismantled.

Troops of the 401st Armored Brigade operate in Gaza City’s Zeitoun, in a handout image published by the IDF on March 3, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

“We will not end this war without eliminating Hamas. There will be no such situation,” he said. “There will be no Hamas as a ruling organization. It will take the time it takes.”

War erupted on October 7 when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists carried out a brutal onslaught of southern Israel, massacring some 1,200 people and taking 253 hostage. Israel launched an offensive to eliminate Hamas and return the hostages, and blames the plight of civilians caught in the crossfire on the terror group, which it says is deeply embedded within the civilian population.

A previous week-long truce saw over 100 hostages released, mainly women and children. It is believed that 100 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — along with the remains of another approximately 30 captives.

‘Fight for freedom not over’

After concluding her remarks about the Middle East, Harris, the first Black and Asian American woman to serve as No. 2 to the commander-in-chief, turned her attention to the events of Selma and the ongoing effort to address racial inequality.

“Today we know our fight for freedom is not over,” she said. “Because in this moment we are witnessing a full-on attack on hard fought, hard won freedoms, starting with the freedom that unlocks all others: the freedom to vote,” Harris said, citing laws in states across the country that ban ballot drop boxes, limit early voting and, in Georgia, made it illegal to give food and water to people waiting in line to vote.

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during the annual Bloody Sunday bridge crossing jubilee in Selma, Ala., Sunday, March 3, 2024. (Jake Crandall/The Montgomery Advertiser via AP)

At the beginning of their time in office, Biden appointed Harris to lead their administration’s efforts to advance voting rights, but the effort largely fizzled without enough votes in Congress to pass new laws on the issue.

Biden has said democracy is on the ballot in the 2024 election, in which he is likely to face former President Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination who sought to overturn the results of the 2020 election that Biden won.

Jacob Magid and Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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