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22 December 2023

UN approves resolution on aid to Gaza without call for suspension of hostilities

22 December 2023

The UN Security Council has adopted a watered-down resolution calling for the immediate acceleration of aid deliveries to civilians in Gaza but without the original call for an “urgent suspension of hostilities” between Israel and Hamas.

The vote in the 15-member council was 13-0 with the United States and Russia abstaining. The vote followed a US veto of a Russian amendment that would have restored the call for a suspension of hostilities. That vote was 10 members in favour, the US against and four abstentions.

The US abstention in the final vote avoided a second American veto of a Gaza resolution following Hamas’s surprise October 7 attacks inside Israel. A relieved US ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the council after the resolution’s adoption: “This was tough, but we got there.”

She said the vote bolsters efforts “to alleviate this humanitarian crisis to get life saving assistance into Gaza and to get hostages out of Gaza, to push for the protection of innocent civilians and humanitarian workers and to work towards a lasting peace”.

But Russia’s UN ambassador Vassily Nebenzia called the resolution “entirely toothless” and accused the United States of “shameful, cynical and irresponsible conduct” and resorting to tactics “of gross pressure, blackmail and twisting arms” to avoid a US veto.

In proposing the amendment to restore calls for suspending hostilities, the Russian said that adopting the revised resolution “would essentially be giving the Israeli armed forces complete freedom of movement for the clearing of the Gaza Strip”.

The final resolution, with some late changes on Friday morning, followed a week-and-a-half of high-level diplomacy by the United States, the United Arab Emirates on behalf of Arab nations and others. Between Tuesday and Thursday, US secretary of state Antony Blinken spoke to the foreign ministers of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates three times each as well as to the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the UK, France and Germany.

The vote, initially scheduled for Monday, was delayed every day until Friday.

Rather than watered down, Ms Thomas-Greenfield described the resolution as “strong” and said it “is fully supported by the Arab group that provides them what they feel is needed to get humanitarian assistance on the ground”.

But it was stripped of its key provision – a call for “the urgent suspension of hostilities to allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access, and for urgent steps towards a sustainable cessation of hostilities”.

Instead, it calls “for urgent steps to immediately allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access, and also for creating the conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities”. The steps are not defined, but diplomats said if adopted this would mark the council’s first reference to stopping fighting.

On a key sticking point concerning aid deliveries, the new draft eliminates a previous request for the UN “to exclusively monitor all humanitarian relief consignments to Gaza provided through land, sea and air routes” by outside parties to confirm their humanitarian nature.

It substitutes a request to UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres to expeditiously appoint “a senior humanitarian and reconstruction co-ordinator with responsibility for facilitating, co-ordinating, monitoring and verifying” whether relief deliveries to Gaza that are not from the parties to the conflict are humanitarian goods.

It asks the co-ordinator to expeditiously establish a “mechanism” to accelerate aid deliveries and demands that the parties to the conflict — Israel and Hamas — co-operate with the co-ordinator.

Ms Thomas-Greenfield said the US negotiated the new draft with the United Arab Emirates, the Arab representative on the council which sponsored the resolution, and with Egypt, which borders Gaza, and others. This mainly bypassed the 13 other council members, several of whom objected to being left out, according to some anonymous diplomats.

Mr Guterres has said Gaza faces “a humanitarian catastrophe” and warned that a total collapse of the humanitarian support system would lead to “a complete breakdown of public order and increased pressure for mass displacement into Egypt”.

According to a report released on Thursday by 23 UN and humanitarian agencies, Gaza’s entire 2.2 million population is in a food crisis or worse and 576,600 are at the “catastrophic” starvation level. With supplies to Gaza cut off except for a small trickle, the UN World Food Programme has said 90% of the population is regularly going without food for a full day.

Nearly 20,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, since the war started. During the October 7 attack, Hamas militants killed around 1,200 people in Israel and took around 240 hostages back to Gaza.

Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, and its Health Ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths. Thousands more Palestinians are buried under the rubble of Gaza, the UN estimates.

Security Council resolutions are legally binding, but in practice many parties choose to ignore the council’s requests for action. General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, though they are a significant barometer of world opinion.

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