UN Security Council votes for 'immediate' Gaza ceasefire, US abstains

MAR 25, 2024 LISTEN

After more than five months of war, the UN Security Council for the first time Monday demanded an "immediate" ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. The United States was the only member to abstain.

Drawing unusual applause in the normally staid Security Council, all 14 other members voted in favor of the resolution which "demands an immediate ceasefire" for the ongoing Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

It calls for the truce to lead to a "lasting, sustainable ceasefire" and demands that Hamas and other militants free hostages seized on 7 October.

The resolution also stresses the "urgent need to expand the flow of humanitarian assistance to and reinforce the protection of civilians in the entire Gaza Strip".

"Hamas welcomes the United Nations Security Council's call today for an immediate ceasefire" in the Gaza Strip, the militant group said, adding: "We also affirm our readiness to engage in an immediate prisoner exchange process that leads to the release of prisoners on both sides."

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield says she abstained because the resolution did not include an explicit condemnation of Hamas.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said the US abstention on the resolution hurt Israel's fight against Hamas and the effort to release hostages held in the territory.

"It gives Hamas hope that international pressure will allow them to accept a ceasefire without the release of our abductees," Netanyahu said.

To mark his protest, he cancelled the trip of an Israeli delegation to Washington that was to discuss alternatives to a looming attack on the Rafah border town, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians try to shelter from the ongoing bombardments. 

The Palestinian envoy Riyad Mansour said that the approval of a ceasefire resolution needed to be a "turning point" in ending the Gaza war.

"This must signal the end of this assault, of atrocities against our people," he said, holding back tears.

High time for action

French Ambassador and Permanent Representative Nicholas de Rivière welcomed the adoption of the resolution, stressing that "it was high time" that the Security Council act. 

"The adoption of this resolution demonstrates that the Security Council can still act when all of its members make the necessary effort to discharge their mandate," he said.

France has called for work on a permanent ceasefire once Ramadan ends in around two weeks.

Extended pauses

The US has vetoed three draft council resolutions on the war in Gaza. It has also previously abstained twice, allowing the council to adopt resolutions that aimed to boost aid to Gaza and called for extended pauses in fighting.

Russia at the last minute objected to the removal of the word "permanent" ceasefire rather than "lasting" ceasefire but the vote failed and Moscow still voted for the resolution.

The successful resolution was drafted in part by Algeria, the Arab bloc's current member on the Security Council, with a diverse array of countries including Slovenia and Switzerland.

"The bloodbath has continued for far too long," said Amar Bendjama, Algeria's representative. 

The United States has shown growing frustration with Israel, including its stated plans to expand its military operation in the southern city of Rafah.

A change in tone toward its Middle Eastern ally was seen Friday, when the United States put forward a resolution to recognise "the imperative" of an "immediate and sustained ceasefire."

But that text was blocked by Russia and China, which along with Arab states criticized it for stopping short of explicitly demanding Israel halt its campaign in Gaza.

Unlike Friday's text, the call for a ceasefire in the new resolution is not directly linked to ongoing talks, led by Qatar with support from the United States and Egypt, to halt fighting in return for Hamas releasing hostages.

Little effect

The 7 October attack by the Palestinian militant group on Israel resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to a tally of Israeli figures.

The militants also seized 250 hostages, of whom Israel believes around 130 remain in Gaza, including 33 presumed dead.

Israel's military campaign in response to eliminate Hamas has killed more than 32,000 people, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

UN personnel say Israel continues to block aid convoys as experts warn of looming famine.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday said: "This resolution must be implemented. Failure would be unforgivable," Guterres wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

(With newswires)