Harris focuses on shaping post-conflict Gaza

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the COP28 U.N. Climate Summit, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the COP28 U.N. Climate Summit, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Vice President Kamala Harris engaged in a speed round of diplomatic talks with Arab leaders Saturday where she focused on shaping the outlook for a post-conflict Gaza while calling on Israel to do more to protect Palestinian civilians from the "devastating" bombardment.

She made a hastily planned trip to the United Arab Emirates as the top American representative at the U.N. climate conference, but the Israel-Hamas war was a main objective of her visit. She met with leaders of the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Jordan and spoke by phone with Qatar's emir.

Her efforts to focus on what Gaza will look like once the fighting ends played out against the backdrop of an overpowering attack that Israel has unleashed on the crowded southern area of the territory since fighting resumed Friday morning after a weeklong truce.

"As Israel defends itself, it matters how. The United States is unequivocal: International humanitarian law must be respected," Harris said after her meetings. "Too many innocent Palestinians have been killed. Frankly, the scale of civilian suffering and the images and videos coming from Gaza are devastating."

She added that as Israel "pursues its military objectives in Gaza, we believe Israel must do more to protect innocent civilians."

Dubai is the first Arab nation to host an annual U.N. environmental gathering where world leaders discuss ways to best slow the effects of climate change. Harris said she had "productive" talks on the summit sidelines with Middle Eastern leaders.

She said she and President Joe Biden have repeatedly noted the brutality of the Hamas attack against Israel on Oct. 7 that triggered the war, while also hailing a recent pause in fighting to enable the release of more than 100 hostages taken by Hamas.

The vice president said that, at some point, the fighting will draw to an end and a plan must be ready for what comes next.

Since the pause in fighting ended, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza, Israeli strikes on houses and buildings have killed more than 200 Palestinians.

"There is a mutual desire to figure out how we are going to figure out and approach 'the day after' in ways that bring stability and peace to this region," Harris said, referring to a time when fighting in Gaza subsidies.

Harris spent just one day at the conference and her Saturday schedule was so packed that the vice president wasn't in the cavernous, IMAX-style conference room when her name was called to participate in a session with other leaders on the best ways to make a just and orderly transition to cleaner energy.

Her chair sat empty on stage until her name was called again near the end of the meeting, when she was the only panelist who hadn't spoken. Harris swept into the room and gave her speech, declaring that the U.S. planned to join 90-plus nations aiming to double their energy efficiency and triple renewable energy production by 2030.

When she was done, she dashed off the stage and was nearly out of the room when the moderator asked participants to pose for a photo. That prompted Harris to move quickly back for the picture.

Then she swept briskly through the hallway to a waiting motorcade to take her nearby for meetings with Arab leaders. Harris wouldn't disclose the details of her conversations with Qatar's emir about the potential for future pauses in fighting to secure the release of additional hostages. But she said the U.S. wants to see the release of all hostages.

The vice president said she also talked with Arab leaders about three key elements for a post-conflict Gaza: reconstruction, security and governance. She said she stressed that it will be up to the region's key nations, as well as other nations and organizations, to "dedicate significant resources" to rebuilding hospitals and housing. Electricity and clean water must be available, while bakeries must be able to reopen, she said.

Harris said Palestinian Authority security forces "must be strengthened to eventually assume security responsibilities in Gaza" while stressing that terrorists cannot be allowed to continue to threaten Israel as a condition for security.

Lastly, Harris said the Palestinian Authority in control of the West Bank should also govern in Gaza to achieve a lasting peace, echoing similar sentiments to those of Biden.

"The Palestinian Authority must be revitalized, driven by the will of the Palestinian people," the vice president said, adding that it would "allow them to benefit from the rule of law and a transparent responsive government."

photo Vice President Kamala Harris arrives to speak at the COP28 U.N. Climate Summit, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
photo Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a plenary session at the COP28 U.N. Climate Summit, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
photo Vanuatu Deputy Prime Minister Matai Seremaiah, from left, Terrance Drew, prime minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, Namibia President Hage Geingob, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Paulo Teixeira, Brazil's Minister of Agricultural Development, and Vice President Kamala Harris pose for photos at the COP28 U.N. Climate Summit, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
photo Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the COP28 U.N. Climate Summit, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
photo Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the COP28 U.N. Climate Summit, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
photo Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the COP28 U.N. Climate Summit, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
photo Vice President Kamala Harris waves as she leaves after speaking during a plenary session at the COP28 U.N. Climate Summit, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
photo Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a plenary session at the COP28 U.N. Climate Summit, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
photo Vice President Kamala Harris claps as she waits to speak at a plenary session at the COP28 U.N. Climate Summit, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)