Kamala Harris Calls for ‘Immediate Cease-Fire’

Kamala Harris Calls for ‘Immediate Cease-Fire’

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

Ms. Harris’s remarks, delivered in Selma, Ala., bolstered a recent push by the president for an agreement and came a day before she was to meet with a top Israeli cabinet official involved in war planning, Benny Gantz. Her tone, sharper and more urgent than President Biden’s in recent days, showed the White House’s building frustration with Israel. Last month the president called Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack “over the top.”

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

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

She added: “Given the immense scale of suffering in Gaza, there must be an immediate cease-fire.”

President Biden has been pushing for a deal between Hamas and Israel that would allow for the release of hostages and a temporary cease-fire by Ramadan, the Muslim holy month that starts around March 10. U.S. officials said that Israel has “more or less accepted” terms of the deal, but Hamas has yet to agree to it.

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

“Hamas claims it wants a ceasefire,” she said. “Well, there is a deal on the table.”

Ms. Harris’s remarks also comes as the political consequences of the Biden administration’s unwavering support for Israel begin to come into sharper focus. While President Biden has increasingly criticized Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack, his rejection of calls for a cease-fire and a series of missteps in showing a lack of empathy for Palestinians has divided the Democratic Party, and alienated key constituents, including Black, young, and Arab voters.

Opponents of the war and Palestinian supporters have followed Mr. Biden to events across the country protesting his support of the war, and prominent Black faith leaders have called on the administration to halt financial assistance for Israel’s war in Gaza supports, alleging that it amounted to “mass genocide.”

And in perhaps the most glaring warning sign to date, more than 100,000 Arab voters voting “uncommitted” in Michigan’s primary — a preview of what could unfold in other key swing states that helped elect Mr. Biden in 2020.

Ms. Harris, who has pushed the administration to express more sympathy for Palestinians, drew applause during parts of her remarks on Gaza. Ms. Harris continued her remarks commemorating the day in March 1965 when Black Americans were violently beaten by white law enforcement officers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge for marching for their right to vote. The event was widely credited with galvanizing support of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which passed five months later.

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

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

Ms. Harris said on Sunday that Israel must do more to allow for the flow of aid into Gaza, including opening borders, lifting any unnecessary restrictions on aid deliveries and restoring services to Gaza.

Israeli and Palestinian officials and witnesses have offered different accounts of the chaos, with Israeli officials blaming the crush of the crowd for most of the deaths, while witnesses described extensive gunfire by Israeli forces.

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