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Kamala Harris called for a cease-fire in Gaza. Here's what we know about the talks

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks on the 59th commemoration of the Bloody Sunday Selma bridge crossing on Sunday in Selma, Ala. Harris called for an "immediate ceasefire" in Gaza in her remarks but reiterated that Israel has "a right to defend itself."
Elijah Nouvelage
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Getty Images
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks on the 59th commemoration of the Bloody Sunday Selma bridge crossing on Sunday in Selma, Ala. Harris called for an "immediate ceasefire" in Gaza in her remarks but reiterated that Israel has "a right to defend itself."

TEL AVIV, Israel - Vice President Kamala Harris is scheduled to meet with Benny Gantz, a member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's war cabinet, as pressure builds for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in the war in Gaza.

Monday's meeting in Washington, D.C., comes one day after Harris called for an immediate, temporary cease-fire in Gaza to facilitate an exchange of Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners and detainees. Harris is expected to continue pressing Israel to pause the fighting and allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza.

As Harris and Gantz meet in Washington, mediators will also be convening in Egypt to discuss the outlines of a potential agreement.

According to an Egyptian source close to the talks, a Hamas delegation will be in Cairo until Tuesday, meeting with mediators from Egypt and Qatar to broker a deal that would include a 6-week cease-fire as well as the exchange of dozens of Israeli hostages taken captive by Hamas for several hundred Palestinian prisoners and detainees held by Israel.

The source told NPR that Hamas is demanding temporary housing in Gaza until reconstruction is completed in the enclave, where at least 60% of homes have been destroyed by the war. They also want a withdrawal of Israeli troops, and for Palestinians who have been displaced from northern Gaza to be able to return.

In the talks, an Israeli official tells NPR, Israel is demanding to know how many hostages are still alive.

The goal has been to secure a cease-fire deal prior to the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan — which begins around March 10 — in order to allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza.

Family and supporters of the hostages held captive by Hamas in Gaza complete the final leg of a four-day march from the Israel-Gaza border to Jerusalem, to demand the immediate release of all hostages, in Jerusalem, on Saturday.
Mahmoud Illean / AP
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AP
Family and supporters of the hostages held captive by Hamas in Gaza complete the final leg of a four-day march from the Israel-Gaza border to Jerusalem, to demand the immediate release of all hostages, in Jerusalem, on Saturday.

Gantz has already issued an ultimatumto Hamas: Return the hostages by the start of Ramadan, or "the fighting will continue everywhere, to include the Rafah area."

Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza, is where over a million displaced Palestinians have been sheltering for weeks, and where Israel says a number of Hamas battalions remain. The Israeli military has been carrying out sporadic strikes there, including a strike on Saturday afternoon that killed 11 people and wounded at least 50 others, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. In a separate strike in eastern Rafah on Saturday, 14 members of the same family were killed, and as many as 10 others were trapped under rubble.

According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), "over 600,000 children are trapped in Rafah. There is nowhere safe for them to go."

Previous negotiations in Cairo and in Doha, Qatar, failed to achieve any breakthroughs, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling Hamas demands "delusional."

The current framework under consideration in Cairo is based on a proposal discussed by mediators in Paris last month.

If ultimately agreed upon, the deal would be the second cease-fire deal since the start of the conflict on Oct. 7. That's when Hamas led an attack on Israel, killing 1,200 people and kidnapping 240, according to Israeli officials. The Israeli response has killed more than 30,500 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health.

In the first - and so far, only - cease-fire, more than 100 hostages were released in exchange for nearly 250 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

Children dying "at alarming rate"

Hamas is also pushing for the largest amount of aid possible to reach people in Gaza, according to an Egyptian sources close to the negotiations.

The humanitarian situation is Gaza is spiraling, with a least a quarter of the enclave's 2.2 million residents now "one step away from famine," according to the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. On Friday, the World Health Organization said it recorded the 10th child in Gaza to have starved to death.

WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier said that the actual number of child deaths from starvation "can unfortunately be expected to be higher."

Adele Khodr, regional director for the Middle East and North Africa at UNICEF, called for "entry points that would allow us to bring aid in from all possible crossings, including to northern Gaza; and security assurances and unimpeded passage to distribute aid, at scale, across Gaza, with no denials, delays and access impediments."

Safety for the distribution of humanitarian aid has remained a constant concern, especially in northern Gaza.

Children are tended to after a strike outside the Emirati Maternity Hospital, in Rafah, on March 2, 2024.
Anas Baba / NPR
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NPR
Children are tended to after a strike outside the Emirati Maternity Hospital, in Rafah, on March 2, 2024.

Palestinians say Israeli soldiersfired on themwhen they tried to get food from an aid convoy in Gaza City on Thursday, with the shooting and surrounding chaos resulting in at least 115 deaths. The Israeli military on Sunday released a statement saying most of the civilians died in a stampede and that Israeli soldiers only "responded" to civilians approaching them.

Several countries have resorted to airdropping aid into Gaza, including, most recently, the U.S., which on Saturday, dropped over 38,000 meals in a joint operation with the Jordanian air force.

Gantz's visit reveals tensions

Israeli media reports that Gantz's visit to Washington was not pre-authorized by the prime minister's office, and that Netanyahu has asked that the Israeli embassy decline to facilitate Gantz's trip and to not allow any embassy staff to attend any of his meetings. There are also reports of a heated phone conversation, in which Netanyahu reportedly told Gantz that Israel has "only one prime minister."

Minister Gantz is chairman of the National Unity Party - which is not part of the hard-line coalition keeping Netanyahu in power.

The prime minister's office declined to respond to a request for comment about Gantz's visit.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks during a press conference with his Greek counterpart in Athens, Greece, in November 2022. Gantz was due in Washington, D.C., on Monday for a meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris.
Michael Varaklas / AP
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AP
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks during a press conference with his Greek counterpart in Athens, Greece, in November 2022. Gantz was due in Washington, D.C., on Monday for a meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris.

However, in a Facebook post, Knesset member Hili Tropper, a member of the National Unity Party, wrote, "There is indeed one prime minister for Israel...but we also have one Israel and anyone who can help for its success in the war must do so... Now is the time to put the ego aside, put political calculations aside, and concentrate on partnership for the benefit of the State of Israel."

Even before the war, there was a rift between Netanyahu and Gantz over a number of issues - from Israel's military operations in Gaza to whether ultra-Orthodox men should be compelled into military service.

Gantz's visit to Washington comes amid continued demonstrations against Netanyahu over the war in Gaza and calls for early elections that are growing louder on the streets.

Regular anti-governmentprotestsare being held by Israelis who are angry over the fact that he has not been able to free the remaining 134 hostages still being held in captivity.

In a speech on Thursday night, Netanyahu, who is holding on to power with a narrow majority in the Knesset, dismissed the call for early elections as a tactic of "extremists," and called for unity in the country.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

D. Parvaz
D. Parvaz is an editor at Weekend Edition. Prior to joining NPR, she worked at several news organizations covering wildfires, riots, earthquakes, a nuclear meltdown, elections, political upheaval and refugee crises in several countries.