After blunt assessment of Gaza 'catastrophe,' VP Harris to meet Israel's Gantz

Credit: REUTERS/Megan Varner

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON, March 4 (Reuters) - Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz will meet with Vice President Kamala Harris and other top U.S. officials in Washington on Monday as the White House ramps up pressure on Israel to protect civilians in Gaza during its war with Hamas.

Gantz, a political rival to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will also meet with national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk on Monday and Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday, according to a statement by his office.

Harris and Gantz will discuss increasing aid to Gaza, where Palestinian authorities say over 30,000 have been killed under a months-long assault by Israel in retaliation for the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, and the United Nations says many are on the brink of starvation. They will also discuss a hostage deal and temporary ceasefire, a White House official said.

The meeting comes as President Joe Biden and his administration face increasing pressure from his Democratic Party to back a permanent ceasefire, and push ally and military aid recipient Israel to reduce the loss of civilian life in Gaza and allow aid to flow through in greater amounts.

Harris on Sunday said conditions in Gaza were inhumane and amounted to a "humanitarian catastrophe", while calling for an immediate ceasefire. She is likely to deliver the same blunt message directly to Gantz.

Many in Biden's party have been pushing for a ceasefire, too, and the lack of a sustained one has hurt the president politically. Biden, who is seeking reelection in November, has struggled with low approval ratings for much of his first term; his backing of military aid for Israel is unpopular with most Democrats, a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll shows.

In a sign of increasing desperation to get aid to Gaza residents, the U.S. military carried out its first air drop of food to Palestinians on Saturday. It plans more.

The war in Gaza began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Biden, a staunch ally of Israel, has shown increasing exasperation with the country and with Netanyahu, as the deaths in Gaza increased. Last week, he said Israel risked losing support from the rest of the world, a notion Netanyahu rejected.

The vice president's meeting with Gantz is a signal that the administration is willing to work all angles on the issue within the Israeli government. Gantz leads a centrist party but joined right-wing Netanyahu's emergency cabinet last year as a show of unity against the threat facing Israel from Hamas.

Harris had tough words for Hamas on Sunday, too, but focused most of her sharp language on Israel over the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

The air drop, which the administration called a success, was the latest sign that Washington is moving beyond diplomacy with Israel, which the U.N. and other relief agencies complain has blocked or restricted aid. Israel denies putting any restrictions on humanitarian aid.

The administration is also considering opening a humanitarian marine corridor into Gaza, officials said on Friday.

"Israel MUST open the borders and allow the United Nations to deliver supplies in sufficient quantities. The United States should make clear that failure to do so immediately will lead to a fundamental break in the U.S.-Israeli relationship and the immediate halt of all military aid," he said in a statement.

The U.S. is Israel's most important foreign arms provider. It gives Israel $3.8 billion in military aid annually, and U.S. leaders have proposed more in aid since the Oct. 7 attacks.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; editing by Heather Timmons, Diane Craft and Jonathan Oatis)

((; +1 202 898 8300; On Twitter: @jeffmason1; Reuters Messaging:

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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