UN Security Council demands immediate Gaza ceasefire as US abstains

UNSC calls for a ‘lasting, sustainable ceasefire’ in Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza and the release of all captives.

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) demands an immediate ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the release of all captives as the United States abstains from the vote.

The remaining 14 council members voted in favour of the resolution, which was proposed by the 10 elected members of the council. There was a round of applause in the council chamber after the vote on Monday.

The resolution calls for an immediate ceasefire for the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which ends in two weeks, and also demands the release of all hostages seized in the Hamas-led attack on southern Israel on October 7.

“The bloodbath has continued for far too long,” said Amar Bendjama, the ambassador from Algeria, the Arab bloc’s current Security Council member and a sponsor of the resolution. “Finally, the Security Council is shouldering its responsibility.”

The US had repeatedly blocked Security Council resolutions that put pressure on Israel but has increasingly shown frustration with its ally as civilian casualties mount and the UN warns of impending famine in Gaza.

Speaking after the vote, US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield blamed Hamas for the delay in passing a ceasefire resolution.

“We did not agree with everything with the resolution,” which she said was the reason why the US abstained.

“Certain key edits were ignored, including our request to add a condemnation of Hamas,” Thomas-Greenfield said. She stressed that the release of Israeli captives would lead to an increase in humanitarian aid supplies going into the besieged coastal enclave.

Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations Riyad Mansour addresses the Security Council on the day of a vote on a Gaza resolution
Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour addresses the UN Security Council [Andrew Kelly/Reuters]

The White House said the final resolution did not have language the US considers essential and its abstention does not represent a shift in policy.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the US failure to veto the resolution is a “clear retreat” from its previous position and would hurt war efforts against Hamas as well as efforts to release Israeli captives held in Gaza.

His office also said Netanyahu will not be sending a high-level delegation to Washington, DC, in light of the new US position.

US President Joe Biden had requested to meet Israeli officials to discuss Israeli plans for a ground invasion of Rafah in southern Gaza, where more than 1 million displaced Palestinians are sheltering.

White House spokesperson John Kirby said the US was “disappointed” by Netanyahu’s decision.

“We’re very disappointed that they won’t be coming to Washington, DC, to allow us to have a fulsome conversation with them about viable alternatives to them going in on the ground in Rafah,” Kirby told reporters.

He said senior US officials would still meet for separate talks with Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, who is currently in Washington, on issues including the captives, humanitarian aid and protecting civilians in Rafah.

Last week, Netanyahu promised to defy US appeals and expand Israel’s military campaign to Rafah even without its ally’s support.

‘Crisis not over’

Al Jazeera’s diplomatic editor James Bays said the vote is still a “very, very significant” development.

“After almost six months, … the vote, almost unanimous,” has demanded a lasting and immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

“The US has used its veto three times,” Bays said. “This time, the US let this pass.”

“Resolutions of the Security Council are international law. They are always seen as binding on all the member states of the United Nations,” he added.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a post on X that the resolution “must be implemented”, adding that “failure would be unforgivable”.

The vote came amid international calls to bring the nearly six-month-long conflict to an end as Israeli forces pummel Gaza and humanitarian conditions in the besieged strip reach critical levels.

More than 90 percent of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents have been displaced, and conditions under Israeli siege and bombardment have pushed Gaza to the brink of famine, the UN said.

More than 32,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli assault since October 7, mostly women and children, according to Palestinian health authorities.

Israel began its military offensive in Gaza after Hamas led an attack on southern Israel on October 7, killing at least 1,139 people, mostly civilians, and seizing about 250 others as hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Palestinian leaders welcomed the adoption of the resolution, saying it was a step in the right direction.

“This must be a turning point,” Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour told the UNSC, holding back tears. “This must signal the end of this assault, of atrocities against our people.”

In a statement, the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on UNSC member states to fulfill their legal responsibilities to implement the resolution immediately.

‘Vote in favour of peace’

The ministry also stressed the importance of intensifying efforts to achieve a permanent ceasefire that extends beyond Ramadan, secure the entry of aid, work on the release Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails and prevent forced displacement of Palestinians.

Hamas welcomed the resolution and said in a statement it “affirms readiness to engage in immediate prisoner swaps on both sides”.

France called for more work on securing a permanent ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

“This crisis is not over. Our council will have to remain mobilised and immediately get back to work. After Ramadan, which ends in two weeks, it will have to establish a permanent ceasefire,” French Ambassador Nicolas de Riviere said.

The latest vote was held after Russia and China vetoed a US-sponsored resolution on Friday that would have supported “an immediate and sustained ceasefire”.

Russian Ambassador Vasily Alekseyevich Nebenzya said his country hopes Monday’s resolution will be used in the “interests of peace” rather than advancing the “inhumane Israeli operation against Palestinians”.

“It is of fundamental importance that the UN Security Council, for the first time, is demanding the parties observe an immediate ceasefire, even if it is limited to the month of Ramadan,” he said. “Unfortunately, what happens after that ends remains unclear.”

Russia tried to push for the use of the word “permanent” in regards to the ceasefire. It had complained that dropping the word could allow Israel “to resume its military operation in the Gaza Strip at any moment” after Ramadan, which ends on April 9.

“We are disappointed that it did not make it through,” Nebenzya said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies