Kamala Harris calls for an “immediate ceasefire”

Vice President Kamala Harris on Sunday called for an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza, saying Hamas should accept the six-week pause currently on the table and that Israel should increase the flow of aid to the besieged enclave amid a crisis. humanitarian. .

Harris’ comments, delivered in Selma, Alabama, reinforced a recent push by President Joe Biden for a deal and came a day before he met with a senior Israeli Cabinet official involved in war planning, Benny Gantz. . His tone echoed a sharper, more urgent tone coming from the White House as his frustration with Israel grows. Last month, the president called Israel’s response to the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack “overblown.”

Ms Harris attacked the dire conditions in Gaza, calling the situation a “humanitarian catastrophe”. It was her most blunt assessment to date of the Middle East conflict, which has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health authorities, and put the enclave on the brink of famine.

“What we see every day in Gaza is devastating,” Harris said. “We have seen reports of families eating leaves or animal feed. Women who give birth to malnourished babies with little or no medical care. And children who die from malnutrition and dehydration. “As I have said many times, too many innocent Palestinians have been killed.”

“The threat that Hamas poses to the people of Israel must be eliminated,” Harris added. “And given the immense magnitude of the suffering in Gaza, there must be an immediate ceasefire, at least for the next six weeks.”

Biden has been pushing for a deal between Hamas and Israel that would allow the release of hostages and a temporary ceasefire during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month that begins around March 10. U.S. officials said Israel had “more or less agreed” to the terms of the deal, but Hamas has not yet agreed to do so.

Ms. Harris reiterated the United States’ support for Israel’s right to defend itself against the current threat from Hamas, which she said had no regard for innocent life in Israel or Gaza. Harris called Hamas a “brutal terrorist organization” that represents a threat to Israel and must be eliminated.

“Hamas claims it wants a ceasefire,” he said. “Well, there’s a deal on the table.”

Ms. Harris spoke at a time when the political consequences of the Biden administration’s unwavering support for Israel are beginning to come into focus. While Biden has increasingly criticized Israel’s response to the October 7 attack, his rejection of calls for a permanent ceasefire and a series of previous missteps in showing a lack of empathy toward the Palestinians have divided the Democratic Party. They have also alienated key voters, including black, young and Arab American voters.

War opponents and pro-Palestinian protesters have followed Biden to events across the country to protest his support for Israel in the war. Prominent black religious leaders have called on the administration to stop financial assistance to Israel, alleging that its military campaign amounts to “massive genocide.”

In perhaps the most obvious warning sign to date, more than 100,000 people, many of them Arab Americans, voted “uncommitted” in the Michigan primary last week, a preview of what could happen in other key states that helped to elect Biden in 2020. .

Harris also said Sunday that Israel must do more to allow the flow of aid to Gaza, including opening new border crossings, lifting unnecessary restrictions on aid delivery and restoring services to Gaza.

“People in Gaza are starving,” Harris said. “The conditions are inhumane. And our common humanity compels us to act.”

He condemned a scene that unfolded Thursday, when more than 100 Gazans desperate for food boarded an aid convoy and were met with what Harris called “chaos and gunfire,” after Israel opened fire on the crowd.

Israeli and Palestinian officials and witnesses have offered different accounts of the episode: Israeli officials blamed the crowd for most of the deaths, while witnesses described extensive shooting by Israeli forces.

“The Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid,” Harris said. “There are no excuses.”

Ms. Harris’s comments, delivered on the Edmund Pettus Bridge during a commemoration of Bloody Sunday, a major civil rights event in 1965, drew applause at times from the crowd.

On March 7, 1965, white law enforcement officers beat black Americans on the bridge for marching for their right to vote. The event was widely credited with galvanizing support for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which passed five months later.

Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed reports.