UN Security Council finally passes watered-down call for Gaza aid

Published December 23, 2023
JERUSALEM: Israeli activists gather in a park opposite the US consulate for a vigil honouring the Palestinians killed during Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip, on Friday.—AFP
JERUSALEM: Israeli activists gather in a park opposite the US consulate for a vigil honouring the Palestinians killed during Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip, on Friday.—AFP

• 13 of 15 members back resolution seeking immediate acceleration of aid supplies, US and Russia abstain
• UN chief laments how Israeli bombing is hampering humanitarian relief efforts

UNITED NATIONS: Following numerous delays and intense negotiations, the UN Security Council finally adopted a significantly diluted resolution on Friday, which calls for an immediate acceleration of aid deliveries to Gaza. But it falls short of demanding an “urgent suspension of hostilities,” as originally proposed in the UAE draft.

Thirteen of the 15 council members voted in favour of the resolution, with no member state voting against it.

The United States, leading the weeklong consensus negotiations, abstained due to the absence of a condemnation of Hamas. Russia also abstained, labelling the resolution as ‘toothless’ and asserting that it permits Israel to continue military operations against the Palestinians.

Their abstentions, however, allowed the resolution to pass, as a negative vote by any of the five permanent UNSC members would have blocked it. The vote followed a US veto of a Russian amendment that aimed to reinstate the call for a suspension of hostilities. Ten members supported the amendment, the US opposed it, and four abstained.

The resolution does not weaken Israel’s control over aid deliveries to the 2.3 million people in Gaza, monitored via the Rafah crossing from Egypt and the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing.

The softened language on a cessation of hostilities has left Arab and Muslim states frustrated, as they align with the Russian perspective that this approval effectively allows Israel to persist in attacking targets in Gaza and the West Bank.

“By endorsing this, the council would essentially be granting the Israeli armed forces complete freedom of movement for further clearing of the Gaza Strip,” warned Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia before the vote.

Russia proposed amending the draft to revert to the original text, calling for “an urgent and sustainable cessation of hostilities,” but the US veto thwarted Moscow’s proposal.

Earlier this month, the 193-member UN General Assembly called for a humanitarian ceasefire, with 153 states supporting the move. This had been previously vetoed by the United States in the Security Council.

Talking to reporters after the vote, UN Secretary-General Ant­ónio Guterres expressed concern over Israel’s offensive in Gaza.

“The real issue lies in how Israel is conducting this operation, creating significant impediments to the distribution of humanitarian aid within Gaza,” he said.

Mr Guterres emphasised the prerequisites for an effective aid operation, including security, safe working conditions for staff, logistical capacity, and the resumption of commercial activity.

Highlighting the dire situation, he pointed out that 1.9 million people, constituting 85 per cent of Gaza’s population, have been forcibly displaced. He stated, “The health system is severely strained, with southern hospitals operating at three times their capacity and northern facilities barely functional.” Guterres underscored the challenges UN personnel may encounter while implementing resolutions in the midst of these issues.

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US representative, expressed a cautious optimism about the recently passed resolution, describing it as “a glimmer of hope amongst a sea of unimaginable suffering”. She emphasised the need for immediate release of hostages, unhindered humanitarian access, and respect for international humanitarian law.

However, Thomas-Greenfield voiced dismay over the UNSC failure to condemn the attacks by Hamas on October 7, stating, “We are appalled that it was again unable to condemn the horrific terrorist attacks committed by Hamas.”

Further clearing of Gaza Strip

Russian Ambassador Vassily A. Nebenzia accused the US of delaying the vote on the UAE-proposed draft, alleging tactics of pressure and blackmail. He raised concerns about the neutering of the draft and warned that accepting it could grant “Israeli armed forces complete freedom of movement for further clearing of the Gaza Strip.”

However, French Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative Nathalie Braodhurst, said that the resolution calls for urgent measures to be taken to create the conditions for a lasting cessation of hostilities. “We would have preferred the Council to speak more ambitiously on this subject,” she said, noting that on Thursday, the president of France recalled the crucial importance of immediately working towards a ceasefire that alone would allow the reopening of an essential political horizon.

China’s Deputy Permanent Repre­sentative, Dai Bing, welcomed the resolution despite unmet expectations. He emphasized the need for faster aid delivery to Gaza and urged Israel to cease collective punishment. China’s vote for the Russian amendment, aimed at expanding humanitarian assistance, faced a veto.

Ambassador Barbara Woodward of the UK supported the resolution, highlighting its potential to streamline aid checks and scale up the humanitarian response. She underscored the importance of maintaining a two-state solution for lasting security and stability in the region.

Before the vote, UAE Ambassador Lana Zaki Nusseibeh highlighted the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, warning of a looming famine. She described the resolution as a product of extensive consultations, aiming to address the humanitarian crisis and protect those delivering life-saving aid.

Published in Dawn, December 23rd, 2023

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