U.N. Security Council Calls for Immediate Cease-Fire in Gaza as U.S. Abstains

U.N. Security Council Calls for Immediate Cease-Fire in Gaza as U.S. Abstains

The United Nations Security Council on Monday passed a resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire in the Gaza Strip during the remaining weeks of Ramadan, breaking a five-month impasse during which the United States vetoed three calls for a halt to the fighting.

The resolution passed with 14 votes in favor and the United States abstaining, which U.S. officials said they did in part because the resolution did not condemn Hamas. In addition to a cease-fire, the resolution also called for the “immediate and unconditional release of all hostages” and the lifting of “all barriers to the provision of humanitarian assistance.”

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

Mr. 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.”

Top Israeli officials indicated that they would not implement the resolution for now. “The State of Israel will not cease firing. We will destroy Hamas and continue fighting until the every last hostage has come home,” Israel Katz, the country’s foreign minister, wrote on social media.

Yoav Gallant, the Israeli defense minister, who was already in Washington for meetings with top Biden administration officials, similarly gave no sign Israel would implement a cease-fire.

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

The White House sought to play down the growing rift with Israel. John F. Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, insisted there had been no change in U.S. policy. He said there had been no official notification that the full delegation from Israel was not coming to Washington, but added: “We were looking forward to having an opportunity to speak to a delegation later this week on exploring viable options and alternatives to a major ground offensive in Rafah.”

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

Inside the Security Council, the passage of the resolution was greeted with applause.

“Finally, finally, the Security Council is shouldering its responsibility,” said Amar Bendjama, the Algerian ambassador to the U.N. and the only Arab member of the Council. “It is finally responding to the calls of the international community.”

The resolution, which was put forth by the 10 nonpermanent members of the Council, was being negotiated intensely until the last minute, with the United States asking for revisions in the text.

Sheltering under a tent in Rafah, Mohammed Radi, 37, said that the notion of the war ending was a dream after so many months of fighting.

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

António Guterres, the U.N. secretary general, who is in the Middle East meeting with 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 the George W. Bush presidency, the United States abstained on a cease-fire resolution on a previous war in Gaza. Under President Barack Obama, it abstained on the 2016 resolution on Israeli settlements. And it abstained again on a resolution three months ago on humanitarian aid for Gaza.

“The crucial variable is that the Biden administration is obviously not happy with Israel’s military posture now, and allowing this resolution to pass was one relatively soft way to signal its concern,” said Richard Gowan, an expert on the United Nations at the International Crisis Group. “But the abstention is a not-too-coded hint to Netanyahu to rein in operations, above all over Rafah.”

Since the war began, the United States had vetoed three previous resolutions calling for a cease-fire, agreeing with Israel’s position that it had a right to defend itself, that a permanent cease-fire would benefit Hamas and that such a resolution could jeopardize diplomatic talks. Those vetoes infuriated many diplomats and U.N. officials as the civilian death toll in the war rose, and created rifts with staunch U.S. allies in Europe, including France.

Russia and China then vetoed two alternative resolutions put forth by the United States, the most recent one last Friday, because, they said, the proposals did not clearly demand a cease-fire.

The United States has been sharply criticized by many leaders for failing to persuade Israel, its close ally, to stop or scale back its bombing campaign and ground invasion in Gaza, which the territory’s health officials say have killed some 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 Oct. 7 that killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took over 250 hostage into Gaza, according to Israeli officials. Israeli leaders continue to insist that their aims, including the defeat of Hamas, have yet to be fully realized, meaning they cannot countenance a permanent cease-fire.

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

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

“A cease-fire of any duration must come with the release of hostages — this is the only path,” Ms. Thomas-Greenfield said.

The United States asked for a change in the text that removed “permanent cease-fire” and replaced it with a “lasting cease-fire,” according to diplomats, and wanted to make a cease-fire conditional to the release of the hostages, which is in line with its policy and the negotiations it is leading with Qatar and Egypt.

The resolution adopted on Monday does demand for the unconditional and immediate release of all hostages, but does not make its cease-fire demand conditional on the releases. Ms. Thomas-Greenfield called the resolution “nonbinding.”

The U.S.-backed resolution that failed on Friday also condemned Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack and called for U.N. member states to restrict funding to the Palestinian armed group.

Whereas the failed resolution drafted by the United States said the Security Council “determines the imperative of an immediate and sustained cease-fire,” the resolution that passed Monday was far more concise and direct. It demanded “an immediate cease-fire for the month of Ramadan respected by all parties leading to a permanent sustainable cease-fire.”

There are two weeks remaining in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The resolution also deplores “all attacks against civilians” and “all acts of terrorism,” specifically singling out the taking of hostages.

Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., Gilad Erdan, accused the Council of being biased against Israel because it had taken no action on helping 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 vast destruction of civilian infrastructure from Gaza have circulated, pressure has mounted on the Security Council to act and for the U.S. not to wield its veto.

“When such atrocities are being 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,” Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian representative to the United Nations, said to the Council.

International aid agencies, which have for months pleaded for a cease-fire in Gaza, welcomed the resolution and said in statements that it must be implemented immediately to provide civilians with a respite and allow aid workers to deliver food, medicine, water and other crucial items at the scale needed.

“A cease-fire is the only way to ensure civilians are protected and is central to enabling the scale up of humanitarian assistance to safely reach those in desperate need. This resolution must serve as a critical turning point,” the International Rescue Committee said in a statement.

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

The resolution that passed on Monday also called for both sides to “comply with their obligations under international law in relation to all persons they detain.”

Iyad Abuheweila contributed reporting.

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