US VP Harris voices Gaza concerns in talks with Benny Gantz as war rages

US VP Harris voices Gaza concerns in talks with Benny Gantz as war rages
Harris also urged Israel to let in more humanitarian aid into the besieged and war-hit Gaza Strip, while calling for Hamas to accept a six-week truce deal.
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In her statement, Harris said Israel had 'no excuses' for not letting in more aid [Getty/file photo]

US Vice President Kamala Harris expressed "deep concern" over the situation faced by Gaza's civilians faced with Israeli brutality in talks Monday with Benny Gantz, an Israeli war cabinet member and top rival of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

A day after she delivered some of the most stinging US criticism of Israel since the war began, Harris called for Israel to let in more aid to the war-hit and besieged Palestinian territory, while also urging Hamas to accept a six-week ceasefire deal.

The meeting with Gantz, a centrist former military chief, underscored growing frustration from the White House at the way Netanyahu's extreme right-wing government is pursuing the war, which has left tens of thousands of dead and created a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.

It also highlighted divisions in the Israeli government.

Gantz, who left the political opposition to join the war cabinet after following the events of October 7, has been at odds with Netanyahu on freeing hostages and finding an exit strategy from the war, which has killed over 30,000 Palestinians.

"The vice president expressed her deep concern about the humanitarian conditions in Gaza," Harris's office said in a statement, adding that she "urged Israel to take additional measures" to increase the flow of aid.

"She called on Hamas to accept the terms on the table," the statement added.

US President Joe Biden faces acute political pressure in an election year over the Democrat's steadfast support for Israel amid Gaza's soaring civilian death toll, as well as a number of atrocities deemed as akin to genocide.

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Gantz, who is also meeting with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, said on the way into the White House that "with friends, we should always speak openly, and that's what we're going to do."

'No excuses' 

The White House played down suggestions the talks could exacerbate tensions with Netanyahu, saying Gantz had requested the meeting while passing through Washington.

Israel had also presented a "forward leaning" proposal for the ceasefire which it was now up to Hamas to accept, US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Monday.

A ceasefire would be a major domestic win for Biden to be able to trumpet during his State of the Union speech on Thursday.

On Sunday Harris called for an immediate ceasefire, using what could be described as unusually strong language to say Israel had "no excuses" for not letting in more aid.

The next day she denied any discord between herself and Biden, 81, as her remarks went further than the president had previously gone in criticising Israel.

"The president and I have been aligned and consistent from the very beginning," Harris told reporters.

A Netanyahu critic often touted as a possible replacement should the Israeli prime minister fall, Gantz joined the five-person war cabinet formed after October 7 in a bid to project unity in the country.

But in recent weeks he has pressed Netanyahu on an exit strategy for the war, analysts and Israeli media reports say, with the former defense minister and chief of staff of the armed forces rejecting Netanyahu's stance that only military pressure on Hamas will allow the return of hostages.

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Gantz's US visit was criticised by Doudi Amsellem, Israel's minister of regional cooperation, in a post on social media platform X that said: "Mr. Gantz, your entry into government was intended to create unity at a time of emergency, not to be a Trojan horse."