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War on Gaza: Gantz to visit Washington, meet with Harris on ceasefire

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disapproves of war cabinet member Benny Gantz's plans to meet with US officials in Washington
Then defence minister Benny Gantz at the State Department in Washington on 3 June 2021 (AFP/Jacquelyn Martin)

US Vice President Kamala Harris will meet with Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz at the White House on Monday, despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's disapproval. 

Gantz agreed to the trip as Washington seeks to reach a deal for a temporary ceasefire and increase the flow of aid to Gaza.

A senior figure close to Netanyahu told Haaretz newspaper that the leader did not sanction the meeting. 

"The prime minister made it clear to Gantz last night that he does not approve of his trip to Washington. Any official trip abroad by a minister that is not private but rather in an official capacity requires approval from the prime minister," the senior figure was quoted as saying. 

The talks, first reported by Reuters, are expected to span topics including reducing Palestinian civilian casualties, securing a temporary ceasefire, the release of Israeli captives held in Gaza and increasing aid to the enclave, a White House official said.

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"The vice president will express her concern over the safety of the as many as 1.5 million people in Rafah," the official said, adding that Israel also had a "right to defend itself in the face of continued Hamas terrorist threats".

A statement from Gantz confirmed that he would meet with Harris, as well as with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Republican and Democratic members of US Congress.

"Minister Gantz personally updated the prime minister on his own initiative on Friday of his intention to travel, in order to coordinate the messages to be transmitted in the meetings," the statement said.

Gantz, Israel's former military chief and defence minister, is Netanyahu's main political rival in opinion polls. 

The US military on Saturday carried out its first airdrop of humanitarian aid into Gaza, and aid agencies warned of a growing humanitarian disaster in the Palestinian enclave. 

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Plans for the US airdrop were announced by Biden on Friday, a day after Israeli forces opened fire on Palestinians queuing for aid. More than 100 people were killed in what has been called a "massacre", drawing renewed attention to the humanitarian catastrophe.

Israel has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians in its offensive, according to Gaza health authorities, and the UN warns that a quarter of the population is one step away from famine.

The US and other countries expect aid would be boosted by a temporary ceasefire, which Biden said on Friday he hoped would happen by the time of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which starts on 10 March. 

Gaza truce talks are due to resume in Cairo on Sunday, two Egyptian security sources said on Saturday, though an Israeli news outlet reported Israel would not send a delegation until it received a full list of Israeli captives who are still alive.

The Egyptian sources said Israeli and Hamas delegations were expected to arrive in Cairo on Sunday.

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