The UN Security Council calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza while the United States abstains

The United Nations Security Council on Monday passed a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip during the remaining weeks of Ramadan, breaking a five-month impasse during which the United States had vetoed three requests of cessation of fighting.

The resolution passed with 14 votes in favor with the United States abstaining, which U.S. officials said they did in part because the resolution does not condemn Hamas. In addition to the ceasefire, the resolution also calls for the “immediate and unconditional release of all hostages” and the elimination of “all obstacles to the provision of humanitarian assistance.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately criticized the United States for allowing the resolution to pass and ordered a delegation expected to travel to Washington to hold high-level talks with U.S. officials to instead remain in Israel. President Biden had requested those meetings to discuss alternatives to Israel’s planned offensive in Rafah, the city in southern Gaza where more than a million people have sought refuge. American officials said such an operation would create a humanitarian disaster.

Netanyahu’s office called the U.S. abstention from the vote a “clear departure from the consistent U.S. position in the Security Council since the beginning of the war” and said it “harms both the war effort and the effort to release the hostages.”

Senior Israeli officials have said they will not implement the resolution for now. “The State of Israel will not stop shooting. “We will destroy Hamas and continue fighting until the last hostage has returned home,” Israel Katz, the country’s foreign minister, wrote on social media.

Likewise, Yoav Gallant, the Israeli Defense Minister, who was already in Washington to meet with top Biden administration officials, gave no sign that Israel would implement a ceasefire.

“We will operate against Hamas everywhere, even in places we have not yet been,” he said. He added: “We have no moral right to stop the war while there are still hostages being held in Gaza.”

The White House has sought to downplay the growing rift with Israel. John F. Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council, insisted that there had been no change in US policy. He said there had been no official notification that the entire Israeli delegation would not be coming to Washington, but added: “We were looking forward to the opportunity to speak with a delegation later this week to explore options viable and alternatives to an important offensive terrain in Rafah”.

“We felt we had valuable lessons to share,” Kirby said. He noted that Gallant was still expected to meet with Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, as well as Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III.

Within the Security Council, the approval of the resolution was greeted with applause.

“Finally, finally, the Security Council is assuming its responsibilities,” said Amar Bendjama, Algeria’s ambassador to the UN and the Council’s only Arab member. “He is finally responding to the calls of the international community.”

The resolution, put forward by the Council’s 10 non-permanent members, was the subject of intense negotiations until the last minute, with the United States calling for a revision of the text.

Taking shelter under a tent in Rafah, Mohammed Radi, 37, said the idea of ​​the war ending was a dream after so many months of fighting.

“Things haven’t changed and I don’t see people celebrating,” he said by phone when asked about the resolution. “We are still at war.”

António Guterres, United Nations secretary general, who is in the Middle East to meet Arab leaders about the war, said in a post on social media that “this resolution must be implemented. Failure would be unforgivable.”

In recent years, the United States has rarely broken with Israel in the Security Council. In 2009, in the final days of George W. Bush’s presidency, the United States abstained from a cease-fire resolution over an earlier war in Gaza. Under President Barack Obama, he abstained on the 2016 resolution on Israeli settlements. And three months ago he abstained again on a resolution on humanitarian aid to Gaza.

“The crucial variable is that the Biden administration is obviously not satisfied with Israel’s current military posture, and allowing this resolution to pass was a relatively soft way of signaling its concern,” said Richard Gowan, an expert on United Nations during the international crisis. Group. “But the abstention is a not very codified suggestion addressed to Netanyahu to slow down operations, especially in Rafah”.

Since the start of the war, the United States had vetoed three previous resolutions calling for a ceasefire, agreeing with Israel’s position that it had the right to defend itself, that a permanent ceasefire would benefit Hamas, and that such resolution could have jeopardized diplomatic activities. speaks. Those vetoes infuriated many diplomats and United Nations officials as the civilian death toll in the war mounted and created rifts with staunch U.S. allies in Europe, including France.

Russia and China then vetoed two alternative resolutions put forward by the United States, the most recent last Friday, because, they said, the proposals clearly did not call for a ceasefire.

The United States has been sharply criticized by many leaders for failing to persuade Israel, its close ally, to halt or scale back its bombing campaign and ground invasion in Gaza, which health officials in the territory say has killed around 32,000 people, displaced most of the population and reduced much of the strip to ruins.

Israel launched the war after a Hamas-led attack on October 7 that killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took more than 250 hostages in Gaza, according to Israeli officials. Israeli leaders continue to insist that their goals, including the defeat of Hamas, have yet to be fully realized, meaning they cannot approve a permanent ceasefire.

Security Council resolutions are considered international law. And while the Council has no means to enforce the resolution, it could impose punitive measures, such as sanctions, on Israel, as long as member states agree.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the American ambassador, said the adopted resolution was in line with diplomatic efforts by the United States, Qatar and Egypt to broker a ceasefire in exchange for the release of hostages held in Gaza. She said the United States abstained because it did not agree with everything in the resolution, including the decision not to condemn the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks.

“A ceasefire, of any duration, must come with the release of the hostages – that is the only path,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

The United States asked for a change in the text that eliminated the “permanent ceasefire” and replaced it with a “lasting ceasefire,” according to diplomats, and wanted to make the ceasefire conditional on the release of the hostages. which is in line with his policy and the negotiations he is conducting with Qatar and Egypt.

The resolution adopted Monday calls for the unconditional and immediate release of all guests, but does not make the ceasefire call conditional on release. Ms. Thomas-Greenfield called the resolution “non-binding.”

The US-backed resolution that failed on Friday also condemns the October 7 Hamas attack and calls on UN member states to limit funding to the Palestinian armed group.

While the failed US-drafted resolution stated that the Security Council “determines the imperative for an immediate and lasting ceasefire,” the resolution passed Monday was much more concise and direct. He called for “an immediate ceasefire for the month of Ramadan respected by all parties leading to a permanent and sustainable ceasefire.”

We are two weeks away from the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The resolution also deplores “all attacks against civilians” and “all acts of terrorism”, highlighting in particular the taking of hostages.

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, accused the Council of being biased against Israel because it took no action to help secure hostages held captive in Gaza. He said all Council members should have voted “against this shameful resolution.”

As images of starving children, carnage and widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure circulated from Gaza, pressure mounted on the Security Council to act and for the United States not to exercise its veto.

“When such atrocities are committed in broad daylight against defenseless civilians, including women and children, the right thing to do, the only thing to do morally, legally and politically is to put an end to it,” said Riyad Mansour, Palestinian representative . at the United Nations, he told the Council.

International aid agencies, which have been calling for a ceasefire in Gaza for months, welcomed the resolution and said in statements that it must be implemented immediately to give civilians respite and allow aid workers to deliver food, medicine, water and other crucial assets. elements in the necessary scale.

“A ceasefire is the only way to ensure the protection of civilians and is vital to enable the scale-up of humanitarian assistance to safely reach those in desperate need. This resolution must represent a fundamental turning point,” the International Rescue Committee said in a statement.

Hamas, which holds more than 100 hostages seized during the October 7 attack on Israel that started the war, welcomed the Security Council resolution in a statement on Telegram. He added that the Palestinian armed group was willing “to immediately engage in a prisoner exchange process that would lead to the release of prisoners on both sides.”

The resolution approved on Monday also calls on both sides to “respect their obligations under international law in relation to all persons detained.”

Iyad Abuheweila contributed to the reporting.