Kamala Harris says there must be an ‘immediate ceasefire’ in Gaza

Vice president says pause in fighting ‘for at least six weeks’ needed to save hostages, ensure aid for besieged civilians

John Bowden
Washington DC
Monday 04 March 2024 06:52 GMT
Kamala Harris demands ‘immediate ceasefire’ in Gaza: ‘The conditions are inhumane’

Vice President Kamala Harris called on Sunday for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza that would last for six weeks as she spoke in Selma, Alabama, on the anniversary of the civil rights march later known as “Bloody Sunday”.

“[G]iven 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,” said the vice president, standing with her back to the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

She also delivered one of the sternest condemnations of Israel’s failure to allow humanitarian aid to citizens of the Gaza Strip from the White House so far, remarks that came after Israel’s military was widely criticised for opening fire as Palestinians swarmed an aid truck carrying flour. More than 100 Palestinians were killed in the incident, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

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

“The Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid. No excuses,” she added.

“They must open new border crossings. They must not impose any unnecessary restrictions on the delivery of aid. They must ensure humanitarian personnel, and convoys are not targeted. And they must work to restore basic services, and promote order in Gaza, so more food, water, and fuel can reach those in need,” Ms Harris said.

President Joe Biden has been under immense pressure from his own party in recent days to pressure Israel to halt fighting in Gaza and allow the delivery of more humanitarian aid, as aid agencies warn that a famine is imminent.

The US began dropping humanitarian into Gaza aid by air this week to alleviate the ongoing crisis following a months-long and largely unsuccessful effort by the US to convince Israel to allow much-needed supplies in on the ground. The United Nations said that 80 per cent of aid deliveries destined for northern Gaza were blocked by the Israeli army in January.

Those air drops have been roundly criticised as insufficient to stop famine from taking hold.

On Sunday, the head of Save the Children, Janti Soeripto, described the air drops as “theatre,” and called for urgent action.

“Essentially what we need is opening of crossings, more trucks of supplies coming in, we need a ceasefire, we need safe and unfettered access to the communities,” she told Sky News.

At least 15 children have died of malnutrition and dehydration in recent days, according to the Gaza health ministry.

Ms Harris insisted new routes for aid to Gaza would be established.

“As President Joe Biden said on Friday, the United States is committed to urgently get more lifesaving assistance to innocent Palestinians in need. Yesterday, the department of defence carried out its first airdrop of humanitarian assistance. And the United States will continue these airdrops. And we will work on a new route, by sea, to deliver aid.”

Her remarks come a day ahead of her planned meeting in Washington DC with Benny Gantz, a top Israeli minister and centrist rival of Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s far-right prime minister. Mr Gantz’s visit rankled the prime minister and his allies at a time when an increasing number of media reports point to a fraying of ties between Mr Biden and Mr Netanyahu even if the US administration continues to maintain vocal support for Israel and its right to “self-defence”.

The vice president went on to deliver remarks about the civil rights marchers who endured beatings from police and others while crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965.

She and President Joe Biden have faced mounting pressure from their own party to speak out more forcefully against the intensity of Israel’s assault against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and to pressure both sides into reaching a permanent ceasefire.

The Biden administration remains publicly opposed to the idea of a permanent ceasefire and has reiterated that Israel supposedly has a “right” to end Hamas’s military and political control of the Gaza Strip in the wake of a shocking and deadly terrorist attack last October.

Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip continue to hold an unspecified number of hostages, including both Israeli and American civilians. Meanwhile, the civilian death toll from Israel’s assault and the resulting famine and other effects has passed 30,000.

This latest shift in the administration’s messaging comes after more than 100,000 voters in Michigan’s Democratic primary voted “uncommitted” after progressives including Rep Rashida Tlaib urged Michiganders to register protest votes against the administration’s handling of the war in Gaza.

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