Harris escalates administration calls for Gaza ceasefire

Priscilla Alvarez, Betsy Klein and Sam Fossum, CNN

Vice President Kamala Harris on Sunday forcefully called for more humanitarian aid into Gaza, saying that people in the region are “starving” in the face of “inhumane” conditions and urging Israel to do more in one of the strongest pushes by a US official to date.

Harris – who was in Selma, Alabama, to commemorate the 59th anniversary of Bloody Sunday – has been closely monitoring the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Gaza and has been involved in the post-conflict planning for the besieged coastal enclave.

Her Sunday remarks marked an escalation in the US push to address the situation in Gaza. “The Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid. No excuses,” Harris said.

Her comments also come at a critical moment in the Israel-Hamas war. On Monday, the vice president is expected to meet with a key member of the Israeli War Cabinet, Benny Gantz, in Washington as the US continues to advocate a temporary ceasefire and hostage release.

“What we are seeing every day in Gaza is devastating. 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,” Harris said, citing the deaths of dozens of Palestinians amid Israeli gunfire and panic at Gaza food lines.

“Our hearts break for the victims of that horrific tragedy and for all the innocent people in Gaza who are suffering from what is clearly a humanitarian catastrophe. People in Gaza are starving. The conditions are inhumane,” she continued.

Harris also echoed calls by President Joe Biden for a six-week ceasefire — a proposal that would allow for the release of hostages held by Hamas and a surge of humanitarian aid into Gaza.

“Given 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,” Harris said to cheers from the crowd.

“Hamas claims it wants a ceasefire. Well, there is a deal on the table. And as we have said, Hamas needs to agree to that deal. Let’s get a ceasefire. Let’s reunite the hostages with their families. And let’s provide immediate relief to the people of Gaza,” she added.

On Saturday, the United States and Jordan air-dropped humanitarian aid into Gaza after Biden had asserted that the US would pull out “every stop” to get more aid into the territory.

Senior administration officials touted the effort as successful but maintained that more needs to be done to address the crisis in Gaza, including ensuring land crossings are available to send more assistance into the region. Officials are also exploring a maritime corridor to deliver aid.

An annual commemoration
Speaking at the site of a critical moment for the civil rights movement, Harris also warned Sunday that 59 years after Bloody Sunday, Americans’ freedoms were again at risk as she drew a direct link to “extremist” Republican efforts to restrict reproductive rights, voting rights and other issues.

“Selma, the challenges we currently face are not unlike the challenges faced by those 600 brave souls 59 years ago,” she said before marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the site of violence in 1965 as 600 people began a march from Selma to Montgomery, demanding an end to discrimination in voter registration.

In 1965, state and local lawmen in Alabama attacked the marchers on the bridge with billy clubs and tear gas, driving them back to Selma. Seventeen people were hospitalized and dozens more were injured by police. Months after the brutality, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law.

“In this moment, we, too, then are confronted with a fundamental question: What kind of country do we want to live in? Do we want to live in a country of freedom, liberty, and justice, or a country of injustice, hate, and fear? We each have the power to answer that question, with our voice, with our feet, and with our votes,” Harris said Sunday.

The vice president also said that “the fight for freedom is not over,” pointing to efforts to curb voting rights, reproductive rights and the ability to live free of gun violence.

Harris’ visit to Selma marked the fifth time she has participated in the annual civil rights pilgrimage. She attended as a senator in 2018, as a presidential candidate in 2020, and as vice president in 2022. She also took part virtually in 2021.