VP Harris: Suffering in Gaza ‘devastating’; Israel must do more to protect civilians

Meeting Arab leaders at Dubai climate confab, US vice president says PA should ultimately govern Gaza, and its security forces ‘must be strengthened’ to take responsibilities there

US Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a plenary session at the COP28 UN Climate Summit, December 2, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
US Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a plenary session at the COP28 UN Climate Summit, December 2, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — US Vice President Kamala Harris engaged in a speed round of diplomatic talks with Arab leaders on Saturday where she focused on shaping the outlook for a post-conflict Gaza, while calling on Israel to do more to protect Palestinian civilians from the “devastating” bombardment.

Underlining the public differences between the US and Israel over post-war Gaza, she said the Palestinian Authority should ultimately govern the enclave, even as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in Israel that the PA seeks Israel’s demise and cannot be allowed to rule the Strip.

Harris made a hastily planned trip to the United Arab Emirates as the top American representative at the UN climate conference but the Israel-Hamas war was a main objective of her visit. She met with leaders of the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Jordan and spoke by phone with Qatar’s emir.

Her efforts to focus on what Gaza will look like once the fighting ends played out against the backdrop of an overpowering attack that Israel has unleashed on the crowded southern area of the territory since fighting resumed Friday morning, after a weeklong truce collapsed when Hamas refused to release 15 women and two children as part of the ceasefire agreement and resumed rocket fire toward Israel.

“As Israel defends itself, it matters how. The United States is unequivocal: International humanitarian law must be respected,” Harris said after her meetings. “Too many innocent Palestinians have been killed. Frankly, the scale of civilian suffering and the images and videos coming from Gaza are devastating.’’

She added that as Israel “pursues its military objectives in Gaza, we believe Israel must do more to protect innocent civilians.”

Dubai is the first Arab nation to host an annual UN environmental gathering where world leaders discuss ways to best slow the effects of climate change. Harris said she had “productive” talks on the summit sidelines with Middle Eastern leaders.

She said she and US President Joe Biden have repeatedly noted the brutality of the Hamas attack against Israel on October 7 that triggered the war, in which Palestinian terrorists killed some 1,200 people and took around 240 hostage.

This handout picture released by the Israeli army shows troops on the ground in the northern Gaza Strip on December 2, 2023 (Israel Defense Forces)

Harris also hailed a recent pause in fighting to enable the release 105 civilian hostages, including 81 Israelis, 23 Thai nationals and one Filipino. It is believed that 137 hostages remain in Gaza. In return, Israel released 210 Palestinian security prisoners, all women and minors.

Additionally, some 200 trucks, including four tankers of fuel and four tankers of cooking gas, entered Gaza each day.

The vice president said that, at some point, the fighting will draw to an end and a plan must be ready for what comes next.

Since the pause in fighting ended, according to the Hamas-controlled health ministry in Gaza, Israeli strikes on houses and buildings have killed more than 200 Palestinians. The figures cannot be verified independently and do not differentiate between terrorists and civilians.

“There is a mutual desire to figure out how we are going to figure out and approach ‘the day after’ in ways that bring stability and peace to this region,” Harris said, referring to a time when fighting in Gaza subsidies.

The vice president said she also talked with Arab leaders about three key elements for a post-conflict Gaza: reconstruction, security and governance. She said she stressed that it will be up to the region’s key nations, as well as other nations and organizations, to “dedicate significant resources” to rebuilding hospitals and housing. Electricity and clean water must be available, while bakeries must be able to reopen, she said.

Harris said Palestinian Authority security forces “must be strengthened to eventually assume security responsibilities in Gaza” while stressing that terrorists cannot be allowed to continue to threaten Israel as a condition for security.

Lastly, Harris said the Palestinian Authority in control of the West Bank should also govern in Gaza to achieve a lasting peace, echoing similar sentiments to those of Biden.

“The Palestinian Authority must be revitalized, driven by the will of the Palestinian people,” the vice president said, adding that it would “allow them to benefit from the rule of law and a transparent responsive government.”

Netanyahu, at a Saturday night press conference, said that the Palestinian Authority “pays murderers” and “educate[s] their children to hate Israel and, to my sorrow, to murder Jews, and ultimately for the disappearance of the State of Israel.”

Apparently referring to PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah and Hamas, Netanyahu said the Palestinian movement had “split into two, but the ideology, to my sorrow, that rejects the existence of Israel is common to both those factions. So I won’t repeat the mistake and put that entity into Gaza, because we’ll get the same thing.”

Added Netanyahu: “We would be putting the same element — utterly unreformed, utterly unchanged — into Gaza, and that’s what even the best of our friends suggest. I think differently. I oppose it. I think we need to build something else.”

The PA, he said, “doesn’t fight terror, it finances terror; it doesn’t educate for peace, it educates for the disappearance of the State of Israel. That is not the group that should enter now.”

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the COP28 U.N. Climate Summit, December 2, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

Harris spent just one day at the conference and her Saturday schedule was so packed that the vice president wasn’t in the cavernous, IMAX-style conference room when her name was called to participate in a session with other leaders on the best ways to make a just and orderly transition to cleaner energy.

Her chair sat empty on stage until her name was called again near the end of the meeting, when she was the only panelist who hadn’t spoken. Harris swept into the room and gave her speech, declaring that the US planned to join 90-plus nations aiming to double their energy efficiency and triple renewable energy production by 2030.

When she was done, she dashed off the stage and was nearly out of the room when the moderator asked participants to pose for a photo. That prompted Harris to move quickly back for the picture.

Then she swept briskly through the hallway to a waiting motorcade to take her nearby for meetings with Arab leaders. Harris wouldn’t disclose the details of her conversations with Qatar’s emir about the potential for future pauses in fighting to secure the release of additional hostages. But she said the US wants to see the release of all hostages.

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