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Kamala Harris calls for 'immediate' ceasefire in Gaza

 U.S Vice President Kamala Harris called Sunday for an “immediate cease-fire” in Gaza, in one of the strongest appeals yet from the Biden administration to halt the war, while at a gathering to commemorate a major civil rights anniversary in Selma, Alabama. [AFP]

U.S Vice President Kamala Harris called Sunday for an “immediate cease-fire” in Gaza, in one of the strongest appeals yet from the Biden administration to halt the war.

"Given the immense scale of suffering in Gaza, there must be an immediate cease-fire," Harris said to loud applause at a gathering to commemorate a major civil rights anniversary in Selma, Alabama.

The administration has been working with Egypt and Qatar to mediate a six-week pause in the fighting to get the remaining hostages held by Hamas out and to get scaled-up aid into Gaza, where the U.N. has warned that famine is looming.

Speaking at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where 59 years ago state troopers beat U.S. civil rights marchers in what is known as Bloody Sunday, Harris said people in Gaza are starving.

"The conditions are inhumane, and our common humanity compels us to act," she said. "The Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid. No excuses.”

On Saturday, a joint operation by the U.S. and Jordanian Air Forces air dropped 38,000 meals along Gaza’s coastline. A senior U.S. official said air drops will be part of a “sustained effort” with international partners to scale up humanitarian assistance into Gaza.

Humanitarians use air drops as a method of last resort, because they are expensive, complex operations and cannot deliver the volume of aid that a truck could.

Harris’s appeal comes ahead of a planned meeting Monday with Israeli war Cabinet member Benny Gantz at the White House.

Harris told the crowd in Selma that the “threat that Hamas poses to the people of Israel must be eliminated.”

A White House official said the talks are expected to focus on Palestinian civilian casualties, securing a temporary cease-fire and the release of hostages, as well as increasing aid into the enclave.

"The vice president will express her concern over the safety of as many as 1.5 million people in Rafah," the official said, adding that Israel has a "right to defend itself in the face of continued Hamas terrorist threats."

In a statement, Gantz confirmed that he would meet with Harris, as well as White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Republican and Democratic members of Congress.

Cease-fire talks

A delegation from Hamas was in Cairo on Sunday to discuss a possible weeks-long cease-fire to the nearly five-month war with Israel. But Israeli media reported that Israeli mediators boycotted the talks after Hamas rejected its demand for a full list of names of hostages who are still alive.

The Biden administration said it hopes to have a cease-fire deal by the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins around March 10.

An agreement would bring about the first extended pause in the fighting since a week-long truce in late November. Under proposed terms, dozens of the remaining 100 or so hostages held by Hamas would be freed in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinians held by Israel.

A U.S. official told reporters, "The path to a cease-fire right now literally at this hour is straightforward. And there's a deal on the table. There's a framework deal."

Israel has vowed to end the threat of another Hamas assault like the October 7 terror attack on the Jewish state that killed 1,200 people. Israel’s counteroffensive since then has killed more than 30,000 people in Gaza, about 70% of them women and children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

If a truce is agreed, it would enable scaled up humanitarian aid into Gaza, were the situation is growing more desperate by the day. The health ministry says at least 16 children have died of malnutrition in recent days as "famine spreads" in the north.

Meanwhile, fighting continues, with the health ministry reporting that at least 90 Palestinians have been killed in the last day, including 14 family members whose house in the southern Rafah refugee camp had been hit.

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