Security Council backs resolution calling for urgent humanitarian pauses in Gaza

15 November 2023, 21:24

Palestinians displaced by the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip have gathered at a tent camp in Khan Younis
Israel Palestinians. Picture: PA

The vote was 12-0 with the US, UK and Russia abstaining.

The UN Security Council has approved a resolution calling for “urgent and extended humanitarian pauses and corridors throughout the Gaza Strip” after four failed attempts to respond to the Israel-Hamas war.

The vote was 12-0 with the US, UK and Russia abstaining.

The final draft watered down language from a “demand” to a “call” for humanitarian pauses.

It also watered down a demand for “the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages held by Hamas and other groups”.

The resolution makes no mention of a ceasefire.

It also does not refer to Hamas’s surprise attack on Israel on October 7, during which the militants killed around 1,200 people and took some 240 others hostage.

Nor does it cite Israel’s retaliatory air strikes and ground offensive in Hamas-ruled Gaza, which Gaza’s health ministry says has killed more than 11,000 Palestinians, two thirds of them women and children.

Russia proposed an amendment to the resolution before the vote that would have called for durable humanitarian pauses leading to a ceasefire. But it was rejected by a vote of 5-1 with nine abstentions because it failed to get the minimum nine “yes” votes.

But the resolution, sponsored by Malta, did bring the 15 members of the UN’s most powerful body together in a first response to the ongoing war that is having catastrophic humanitarian consequences in Gaza.

The resolution asks that “all parties comply with their obligations under international law, notably with regard to the protection of civilians, especially children”.

Palestinians in a tent camp in Khan Younis
Palestinians in a tent camp in Khan Younis (Fatima Shbair/AP)

UN Security Council resolutions are legally binding, but in practice many parties choose to ignore the council’s requests for action.

Richard Gowan, UN director for the International Crisis Group, said the Security Council has called for ceasefires in wars from the Balkans to Syria “with little or no impact”.

The Security Council, which has the responsibility for maintaining international peace and security, has been paralysed since the war began by its internal divisions.

This is especially the case between China and Russia, which want an immediate ceasefire, and the US, which has called for humanitarian pauses but objects to any mention of a ceasefire, which its close ally Israel strongly opposes.

The resolution calls for humanitarian pauses and corridors throughout the Gaza Strip for a “sufficient number of days” for unhindered access by the UN, Red Cross and other aid groups to get water, electricity, fuel, food and medical supplies to all those in need.

It says the pauses also should allow for the repair of essential infrastructure and enable urgent rescue and recovery efforts.

In the four previous tries for Security Council approval, a Brazil-drafted resolution was vetoed by the US, a US-drafted resolution was vetoed by Russia and China and two Russian-drafted resolutions failed to get the minimum “yes” votes.

After the fourth failure, frustrated Arab nations turned to the 193-member General Assembly and succeeded in getting wide approval for a resolution calling for a “humanitarian truce” in Gaza meant to lead to a cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hamas.

It was the first United Nations response to the war. But unlike Security Council resolutions, General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, though they are a barometer of world opinion.

The vote was 120-14 with 45 abstentions. Of the five veto-holding Security Council members, Russia, China and France voted in favour, the United States voted against and Britain abstained.

The General Assembly resolution was adopted on October 27, and Israel agreed on November 9 to four-hour pauses. But only very limited aid has been delivered to Gaza through the Rafah crossing from Egypt, and a humanitarian catastrophe has been brewing.

Mr Gowan said US opposition to a ceasefire “is a gift that keeps on giving for Russia diplomatically”.

He said that while many diplomats think Russia is demanding a ceasefire “for largely cynical reasons to make the Americans look bad”, Moscow’s position “is closer to the mainstream of council thinking, and the US looks isolated”.

“A UN ceasefire call would embarrass but not really constrain the Israelis,” he said. “But the US clearly feels that even such a symbolic move is too much of a political risk.”

By Press Association

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