US vice president urges Israeli minister to ensure 'credible' humanitarian plan

By John Mercury March 5, 2024

Israel should craft a “credible” humanitarian plan before advancing further in southern Gaza, the US vice president has told one of its senior ministers.

Kamala Harris also urged Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz – whose visit to Washington was not sanctioned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – to increase aid into the devastated enclave.

Last month, Israel stepped up its bombardment of Rafah in Gaza’s south, where about 1.5 million people are believed to be crammed, most of them having fled the offensive further north.

As concerns grow over a humanitarian catastrophe, Ms Harris followed up her message from Sunday, when she called for Hamas to accept terms for an immediate ceasefire and described conditions in Gaza as “inhumane”.

“[They] discussed the situation in Rafah and the need for a credible and implementable humanitarian plan prior to contemplating any major military operation there given the risks to civilians,” the White House said about the meeting on Monday.

In a post on X, Ms Harris said she “reiterated” support for Israel’s “right to defend itself” and discussed the need to increase the flow of aid into Gaza.

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US VP: ‘Immediate ceasefire’ in Gaza

Israel, meanwhile, doubled down on its criticism of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) – the biggest provider of aid to the region – claiming 450 of its employees were members of militant groups.

Major international funders have withheld hundreds of millions of dollars from the agency since Israel accused 12 of its employees of participating in the 7 October Hamas attacks.

The UN envoy focusing on sexual violence in conflict, Pramila Patten, said on Monday there are “reasonable grounds” to believe Hamas committed rape and “sexualised torture”.

That attack sparked the Israeli invasion that Gaza’s health ministry says has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians.

Palestinians gather at the site of an Israeli strike in Rafah
Pic:Reuters
Image:
Palestinians gather at the site of an Israeli strike in Rafah. Pic: Reuters

The allegations on Monday were a significant escalation in the accusations against the agency, which employs 13,000 people in Gaza.

Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, Israel’s chief military spokesperson, did not provide names or other evidence to back up the vastly increased number of UNRWA employees it said were militants.

UNRWA accused Israel of detaining its staffers and forcing them, using torture and ill treatment, into giving false confessions about the links between the agency, Hamas and the 7 October attack.

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“These forced confessions as a result of torture are being used by the Israeli authorities to further spread misinformation about the agency as part of attempts to dismantle UNRWA,” the agency said.

“This is putting our staff in Gaza at risk and has serious implications on our operations in Gaza and around the region.”

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