US vice president calls for 'immediate ceasefire' in Gaza

AFP , Monday 4 Mar 2024

US Vice President Kamala Harris called Sunday for a proposed six-week ceasefire deal in Gaza to be accepted, while criticizing Israel over insufficient aid deliveries into Gaza.

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during the annual Bloody Sunday bridge crossing jubilee in Selma, Ala., Sunday, March 3, 2024. AP


"Given the immense scale of suffering in Gaza, there must be an immediate ceasefire for at least the next six weeks, which is what is currently on the table," Harris said during a speech in Selma, Alabama.

Her comments were the strongest to date by a US administration official on Israel since the war started, as President Joe Biden comes under acute pressure over his support for Israel and the civilian death toll in Gaza soars.

A senior US official said Saturday that Israel had broadly accepted the deal, which would see a six-week cessation of hostilities if Hamas agrees to release the most vulnerable captives it holds.

The deal "will get the hostages out and get a significant amount of aid in," Harris said, calling on Hamas to accept the deal.

"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."

In unusually strong language, Harris called on the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take steps to increase aid into Gaza.

"The Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid. No excuses," Harris said.

She added that Israel "must open new border crossings" and "must not impose any unnecessary restrictions on the delivery of aid."

Gantz in Washington 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made similar remarks in a post on X, saying "It is imperative that we expand the flow of aid into Gaza to alleviate the dire humanitarian situation."

He added: "People urgently need more food, water, and other assistance. That's why the US is working to get more aid in through every available channel, including air drops." These started Saturday.

Harris is due to meet with Benny Gantz, a member of Israel's war cabinet, in Washington on Monday.

"The vice president's meeting is part of our continued efforts to engage with a wide range of Israeli officials on the war in Gaza and planning for the day after," a White House official said Sunday.

The former Israeli military chief, a longtime rival of Netanyahu, will also meet White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan and Blinken, according to US officials.

"Too many innocent Palestinians have been killed," Harris said, highlighting the deaths on Thursday in chaotic scenes around a convoy of aid trucks.

People "simply trying to secure food for their families after weeks of nearly no aid reaching northern Gaza... were met with gunfire and chaos," said Harris, adding: "Our hearts break for the victims of that horrific tragedy."

"The threat Hamas poses to the people of Israel must be eliminated."

Harris delivered her remarks at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where a march by hundreds of peaceful activists was violently suppressed by police on March 7, 1965.

The event, known as "Bloody Sunday," further catalyzed support for Black rights and helped lead a few months later to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, a federal law prohibiting racial discrimination in voting.

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