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Netenyahu rival to meet with senior US officials as Israeli Cabinet rift deepens

UNITED STATES Vice-President Kamala Harris was set to host a member of Israel’s wartime Cabinet today, who is visiting Washington in defiance of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Benny Gantz, a long-time political rival of Mr Netanyahu, is sitting down with several senior Biden administration officials this week, including Ms Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser. 

President Joe Biden is at Camp David, the presidential retreat just outside Washington, until Tuesday.

An official from Mr Netanyahu's far-right Likud party said Mr Gantz did not have approval from the prime minister for his meetings in Washington and that Mr Netanyahu gave his rival a “tough talk.”

An Israeli official said Mr Gantz is using the visit to strengthen ties with the US, bolster support for Israel’s war and push for the release of Israeli hostages.

But the visit lays bare the widening cracks within Israel’s wartime leadership, nearly six months into the Israel-Gaza war.

In her meeting with Mr Gantz, Ms Harris plans to press for a ceasefire deal that would allow for the release of several categories of hostages being held by Hamas. 

“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,” Ms Harris said on Sunday. 

She added: “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.”

The US has begun a series of airdrops of aid into Gaza, just days after at least 112 Palestinians were killed and around 750 injured as Israel opened fire as they were trying to get food from an aid convoy. 

But the US continues to provide Israel with the military hardware to bombard Palestinians.

However, in a rare rebuke to the Israelis, Ms Harris demanded that they stop “any unnecessary restrictions on the delivery of aid.”

The Israeli military launched its attack on Palestinians after Hamas’s surprise attack of October 7, during which 1,200 people were killed and 253 were taken hostage. 

Since then, 30,410 Palestinians have been killed, including at least 21,000 children and women.

An opinion poll conducted by Israeli Channel 13 showed that if elections were held today, Mr Gantz’s National Unity party would clinch 39 seats, compared with 17 for Netanyahu’s Likud party. 

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