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UN Security Council for first time demands Gaza ceasefire as US abstains

Amelie Bottollier-Depois and Shaun Tandon
26 March 2024, MVT 11:14
The United Nations Security Council meets on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, at the UN headquarters in New York on March 25, 2024. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS / AFP)
Amelie Bottollier-Depois and Shaun Tandon
26 March 2024, MVT 11:14

After more than five months of war, the UN Security Council for the first time Monday demanded an immediate ceasefire in Gaza after the United States, Israel's ally which vetoed previous drafts, abstained.

Drawing 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.

The resolution calls for the truce to lead to a "lasting, sustainable ceasefire" and demands that Hamas and other militants free hostages seized in their October 7 attack that triggered the massive Israeli military campaign.

"The bloodbath has continued for far too long," said Amar Bendjama, the representative of Algeria, the Arab bloc's current member of the Security Council and a sponsor of the resolution alongside a diverse group that included Slovenia, Switzerland, Japan and South Korea.

"Finally, the Security Council is shouldering its responsibility," he said.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres demanded that the resolution be implemented. "Failure would be unforgivable," Guterres wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Palestinian envoy Riyad Mansour fought back tears as he said that the resolution should be a "turning point" in ending the war.

"Apologies to those who the world has failed, to those that could have been saved but were not," he said.

- 'No moral right to stop the war' -

The United States had repeatedly blocked Security Council resolutions that put pressure on Israel but has increasingly shown frustration with its ally as the United Nations warns of impending famine in Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week vowed to defy US appeals and expand Israel's military campaign to Rafah, the southern Gaza city where some 1.5 million Palestinians have taken shelter.

Moments after the United States declined to veto the latest resolution, Netanyahu announced that he would no longer send to Washington a delegation requested by President Joe Biden to discuss Rafah.

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

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who was already in Washington on a separate trip, said his country will not end the war until the hostages are freed.

"We have no moral right to stop the war while there are still hostages held in Gaza," he said outside the White House.

Hamas welcomed the resolution and said it would engage in talks on a prisoner exchange brokered by Qatar, after repeated delays in securing a deal.

- US says onus still on Hamas -

At the White House, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the US side was "perplexed" and "disappointed" that the Israeli delegation visit had been scrapped.

US officials argued that the resolution was non-binding, a point contested at the United Nations, and said it would not jeopardize talks that have been making headway under Qatar.

Even without the delegation's visit, the United States will keep communicating to Israel that an assault on Rafah would be a "mistake," State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.

The October 7 attack by Hamas, the deadliest in Israel's history, resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli figures.

Israel responded by vowing to eliminate Hamas. Its Gaza campaign has killed more than 32,000 people, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

Russia made a last-minute but unsuccessful push Monday to call in the resolution for a "permanent" rather than "lasting" ceasefire, with envoy Vasily Nebenzia accusing the United States of still wanting to give Israel "a free hand."

© Agence France-Presse

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