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US vice president Kamala Harris demands immediate Gaza ceasefire as split opens in Israel’s war cabinet

US vice-president Kamala Harris has urged Israel’s hardline government to agree an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza as a very public split emerged in Benjamin Netanyahu’s war cabinet.

Harris has called out Israel for not doing enough to ease a "humanitarian catastrophe" in the besieged enclave.

A six-week break in fighting would allow hostages to be released and allow “a significant amount of aid” into the ravaged area, said Harris, speaking in Alabama on Sunday.

Her comments were among the sharpest yet by a senior US government leader, as she in plain terms called for Israel to alleviate the “inhumane” conditions in Gaza, while urging Hamas to accept a deal to release hostages.

“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 .

“This will get the hostages out and get a significant amount of aid in. This would allow us to build something more enduring, to ensure Israel is secure, and to respect the right of the Palestinian people to dignity, freedom, and self-determination.”

"People in Gaza are starving,” she continued. “The conditions are inhumane and our common humanity compels us to act.”

People look at a home that was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike on the Gaza Strip (AP)
People look at a home that was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike on the Gaza Strip (AP)

"The Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid. No excuses," she said.

Harris said Israel must open new border crossings, not impose "unnecessary restrictions" on aid delivery, protect humanitarian personnel and convoys from becoming targets, and work to restore basic services and promote order so that "more food, water and fuel can reach those in need."

The United States carried out its first air drop of aid in Gaza on Saturday and Harris was scheduled to meet with Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz at the White House on Monday, when she is expected to deliver a similarly direct message.

Mr Gantz, one of the three-strong cabinet, was due to meet Ms Harris as part of an unauthorised trip to Washington amid intensifying foreign mediation efforts designed to broker a deal with Hamas before the start of Ramadan next week.

Mr Netanyahu gave his centrist rival a “tough talk” for making the trip without his approval, according to an official in the prime minister’s Likud party. But the Israeli leader was himself under strong American pressure to suspend the fighting nearly six months into a war that has claimed more than 30,000 Palestinian lives and left Gaza in ruins.

Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups seized about 250 hostages when they stormed into southern Israel on October 7 in raids that left some 1,200 people dead.

US Vice President Kamala Harris, speaking in Alabama on Sunday (Getty Images)
US Vice President Kamala Harris, speaking in Alabama on Sunday (Getty Images)

About half of the hostages are believed still to be in Gaza, but Hamas leaders insist they cannot account for all of them to comply with one of Israel’s demands in return for a ceasefire. Hamas told the BBC it was unable to do so because of the Israeli bombing. “Practically it is impossible to know who is still alive,” said Dr Basem Naim, a senior Hamas official.

British ministers have also sharpened their rhetoric after more than 100 Palestinians were said to have been killed in firing by Israeli troops when a crowd of civilians converged on an aid convoy in northern Gaza last week. Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron called for an urgent investigation over the “horrific” deaths and demanded that Israel allow in much more aid. Following the bloodshed in Gaza City, the US began a series of air drops into the besieged coastal strip.

The first drop on Saturday included about 38,000 meals, but White House officials stressed that they were a poor substitute for deliveries by truck which have been hampered by Israeli restrictions imposed to stop supplies reaching Hamas. Ms Harris said: “No excuses. They must open new border crossings. They must not impose any unnecessary restrictions on the delivery of aid.” UN agencies say around 80 per cent of Gaza’s pre-war population of 2.3 million have fled their homes and hundreds of thousands are on the brink of famine.