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Harris urges a Gaza cease-fire for hostage deal, presses Israel to ease aid delivery

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaks on the 59th commemoration of "Bloody Sunday" in Selma, Ala., on Sunday.
Elijah Nouvelage
Getty Images
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaks on the 59th commemoration of "Bloody Sunday" in Selma, Ala., on Sunday.

Vice President Kamala Harris on Sunday called for an immediate, temporary cease-fire in Gaza to facilitate a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas, and pressed Israel to do more to increase the flow of aid to alleviate the "immense scale of suffering" among Palestinians.

Her remarks are some of the strongest made by a senior U.S. official regarding the protection of civilians in Gaza.

Harris spoke at the annual commemoration of "Bloody Sunday," in Selma, Ala., a symbolic site in the U.S. fight for civil rights, where in 1965 state troopers beat peaceful protesters.

The vice president called the situation in Gaza a "humanitarian catastrophe."

"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. "Too many innocent Palestinians have been killed."

She pointed to Thursday's deadly incident when Israeli troops fired on a crowd of people in Gaza trying to get food from an aid convoy. One-hundred and fifteen people were killed in the chaos, according to Gaza's health authorities. Israel said its forces fired when the crowd put its troops in danger and that many people were run over by trucks or trampled as they crowded around the aid convoy. The U.S. and others have called for an investigation.

Harris said Israel must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid. Israel must open new border crossings and should not impose unnecessary restrictions on the delivery of aid, she said.

"No excuses," the vice president said. "They must ensure humanitarian convoys are not targeted and restore basic services and order in Gaza so more food, water and fuel can reach those in need."

Still, Harris reiterated the Biden administration's "unwavering" commitment to Israel's security and its right to defend itself from the threat of future attacks by Hamas.

A six-week ceasefire is currently being negotiated that would allow for the release of Israeli hostages and open access to aid. President Biden has suggested that a deal could be in place soon. Senior administration officials said on Saturday that there is a framework that Israel has essentially agreed to but that Hamas still needs to sign on.

The U.S. began airdropping aid into Gaza over the weekend, but aid groupssay the impact is limited.

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Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.