In blunt remarks, VP Harris calls out Israel over ‘catastrophe’ in Gaza

(Reuters) – Vice President Kamala Harris bluntly called out Israel on Sunday for not doing enough to ease a “humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza as the Biden administration faces increasing pressure to rein in its close ally while it wages war with Hamas militants.

Harris, speaking in front of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, where state troopers beat U.S. civil rights marchers nearly six decades ago, called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and urged Hamas to accept a deal to release hostages in return for a 6-week cessation of hostilities.

But she directed the bulk of her comments at Israel in what appeared to be the sharpest rebuke yet by a senior leader in the U.S. government over the conditions in the coastal enclave.

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

Her comments reflected intense frustration, if not desperation, within the U.S. government about the war, which has hurt President Joe Biden with left-leaning voters as he seeks re-election this year.

Harris said Israel must open new border crossings, not impose “unnecessary restrictions” on aid delivery, protect humanitarian personnel and convoys from becoming targets, and work to restore basic services and promote order so that “more food, water and fuel can reach those in need.”

The United States carried out its first air drop of aid in Gaza on Saturday and Harris is scheduled to meet with Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz on Monday at the White House, where she is expected to deliver a similarly direct message.

Israel boycotted Gaza ceasefire talks in Cairo on Sunday after Hamas rejected its demand for a complete list naming hostages that are still alive, according to an Israeli newspaper.

“Hamas claims its 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.”

‘FIGHT FOR FREEDOM IS 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.

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.

Israel at War

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