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For 3rd time, US blocking joint Security Council statement urging ceasefire

Member states have until noon on Monday to negotiate; diplomats tell ToI that Washington is pushing back on statement which laments loss of life, but doesn’t mention Hamas rockets

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield attends a Cabinet meeting with President Joe Biden in the East Room of the White House on April 1, 2021, in Washington. (AP/Evan Vucci)
US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield attends a Cabinet meeting with President Joe Biden in the East Room of the White House on April 1, 2021, in Washington. (AP/Evan Vucci)

NEW YORK — For the third time in a week, the US is blocking a joint statement from the UN Security Council calling for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, two diplomats involved in the matter said Sunday.

The statement was introduced by Norway, Tunisia and China following an emergency session earlier in the day on the fighting in Gaza and generally criticizes both sides for the ongoing violence but makes no mention of Hamas rocket fire.

The US mission did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter. Member states have until Monday at noon to mull over a statement and negotiations over the matter were ongoing, two Security Council diplomats told The Times of Israel.

The Times of Israel obtained a copy of the draft statement early Monday morning. It “expressed [the council’s] grave concern regarding the crisis related to Gaza and the loss of civilian lives and casualties, and called for de-escalation of the situation, cessation of violence and respect for international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians, especially children.”

“The Members of the Security Council emphasized that civilian and humanitarian facilities, including those of the UN, must be respected and protected, called on all parties to act consistently with this principle and stressed the need for immediate provision of humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza,” the statement reads.

“The Members of the Security Council welcomed all efforts to de-escalate and to reach a ceasefire agreement, including from regional states and the Middle East Quartet, and urged all actors to support these efforts,” it continues.

Smoke billows from the area around the port of Gaza City following an Israeli bombardment from the Mediterranean Sea on May 17, 2021, amid fighting between the Israel Defense Forces and Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The members express concern regarding recent violence in Jerusalem, calling for maintaining the status quo at holy sites and “the right of Muslim worshippers to pray in peace at Al-Aqsa mosque.”

They also express serious concern regarding the looming Israeli eviction of Palestinian families in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan “and voiced opposition to unilateral actions, which will only escalate the already tense environment.’

The draft statement concludes with members reiterating their support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “and urg[ing] for the intensification and acceleration of diplomatic efforts and support towards this aim.

The lack of mentioning of Hamas rocket fire from Gaza may offer one of the reasons the US — which has been heavily critical of the matter — has been initially refusing to back it.

During Sunday’s open meeting, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the US was “working tirelessly through diplomatic channels to try and bring an end to this conflict.”

US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli-Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr arrived Friday in Tel Aviv and has been holding meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials aimed at reaching a ceasefire.

The UN Security Council holds an emergency session on the violence in Israel and Gaza on May 16, 2021. (Screen capture/UN)

Speaking to the council, Thomas-Greenfield called on Hamas to immediately stop firing rockets at Israel. Notably, she did not mention Israel’s right to defend itself, as senior US officials have emphasized in their respective statements on the violence this past week.

Fourteen of the 15 Security Council members sought to issue a joint statement, which requires unanimous approval, after closed emergency meetings on Monday and Wednesday. They were rebuffed by the US, which said it wanted more time for its own diplomatic efforts to play out, according to several Security Council diplomats. That statement too would have called for an immediate ceasefire, while condemning both sides for the violence.

When council members moved to hold another meeting last week, the US mission pushed back on the effort for the same reason, saying it preferred to wait until Tuesday. After pressure from multiple missions, the US agreed to move up the meeting to Sunday.

A man walks past the the rubble of the Yazegi residential building that was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Asked after Sunday’s meeting if the US planned to back the joint statement being drafted, an official at the US mission told The Times of Israel that “right now we are focused on the intensive diplomatic efforts underway, including those Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield discussed at today’s Security meeting.”

Speaking to reporters following the emergency session, Mona Juul from Norway’s foreign ministry said her government “strongly believes that the Security Council should speak with one voice and send a clear message urging an immediate cessation of violence and reconfirming our support to the two-state solution. Norway will continue our dedicated efforts to pursue council action.”

During the session, envoys for the 14 other Security Council member states — other than the US — as well as guest speakers from Jordan and Egypt, also called for an immediate ceasefire, with most diplomats criticizing the Israeli strikes in Gaza that resulted in the deaths of Palestinian children as well as the flattening of an office building housed by media organizations, which the IDF said was used by Hamas. Many members also criticized Hamas rocket fire in Gaza. All of them spoke out against the Sheikh Jarrah evictions and called for a two-state solution to the conflict.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi — whose country is fighting separate battles recently with Washington — tore into the US for twice blocking a joint statement from the Security Council in the past week.

“China has been working with relevant countries on a security council press statement. Regrettably, due to the obstruction of one country, the Security Council hasn’t been able to speak as one voice,” Wang said.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, right, shakes hands with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during a meeting at the Diaoyutai state guest house in Beijing, December 31, 2019. (Noel Celis/Pool Photo via AP)

“We call upon the US to shoulder its dual responsibilities, take a just position and together with the international community to support the Security Council in easing the situation and building toward a political settlement,” he added.

Later on Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken became the first US official to call for an immediate ceasefire, according to a readout from his call with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. The press release did not single out Israel, instead urging “both sides” to hold their fire.

In his remarks to the council, Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan urged member states to “unequivocally” condemn Hamas for indiscriminately firing rockets at Israeli civilians, claiming its attack had been premeditated in order to improve its political standing at the Palestinian Authority’s expense.

Erdan warned that if the UN failed to do so and while continuing to urge both sides to exercise restraint, it would further embolden the terror group and “undermine” the PA — a common talking point of the Israeli left about Gaza-related policy.

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