Security Council set to vote on resolution demanding Gaza ceasefire during Ramadan

Motion, backed by Moscow, Beijing and Arab countries, follows Russia and China’s Friday veto of US resolution calling for truce and hostage release, but not a permanent ceasefire

Illustrative: The United Nations Security Council votes on a resolution concerning a ceasefire in Gaza at UN headquarters, February 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Illustrative: The United Nations Security Council votes on a resolution concerning a ceasefire in Gaza at UN headquarters, February 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The United Nations Security Council is set to vote Monday on a resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The vote comes after Russia and China vetoed a United States-sponsored resolution Friday that would have supported “an immediate and sustained ceasefire” in the Israeli-Hamas conflict.

The US warned that the resolution to be voted on Monday morning could hurt negotiations to halt hostilities by the US, Egypt and Qatar, raising the possibility of another veto, this time by the Americans.

The resolution, put forward by the 10 elected council members, is backed by Russia and China and the 22-nation Arab Group at the United Nations.

A statement issued Friday night by the Arab Group appealed to all 15 council members “to act with unity and urgency” and vote for the resolution “to halt the bloodshed, preserve human lives and avert further human suffering and destruction.”

“It is long past time for a ceasefire,” the Arab Group said.

Ramadan began March 10 and ends April 9, which means that if the resolution is approved, the ceasefire demand would last for just two weeks, though the draft says the pause in fighting should lead “to a permanent sustainable ceasefire.”

Illustrative: Palestinians inspect the damage of residential buildings after an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, March 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

The vote was originally scheduled for Saturday morning, but its sponsors asked late Friday for a delay until Monday morning.

Many Security Council members are hoping the UN’s most powerful body, which is charged with maintaining international peace and security, will demand an end to the war that began when Gaza’s Hamas rulers launched a surprise attack into southern Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking some 250 others hostage.

Since then, the Security Council has adopted two resolutions on the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza, but none has called for a ceasefire.

More than 32,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed during the fighting, according to Gaza’s Hamas-controlled health ministry. It does not differentiate between civilians and combatants in its count, but claims women and children make up two-thirds of the dead.

Illustrative: Parachutes drop supplies into the northern Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, March 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

The figure cannot be independently verified and includes some 13,000 Hamas terrorists Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Gaza also faces a dire humanitarian emergency, with a report from an international authority on hunger warning on March 18 that “famine is imminent” in northern Gaza and that escalation of the war could push half of the territory’s 2.3 million people to the brink of starvation.

The brief resolution scheduled for a vote Monday “demands an immediate humanitarian cease-fire for the month of Ramadan.” It also demands “the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages” and emphasizes the urgent need to protect civilians and deliver humanitarian aid throughout the Gaza Strip.

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the council Friday that the resolution’s text “fails to support sensitive diplomacy in the region. Worse, it could actually give Hamas an excuse to walk away from the deal on the table.”

File: US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks during a UN Security Council motion for a Gaza ceasefire and hostage deal vote at UN headquarters in New York, on March 22, 2024 (Angela Weiss/AFP)

“We should not move forward with any resolution that jeopardizes the ongoing negotiations,” she said, warning that if diplomacy isn’t supported, “we may once again find this council deadlocked.”

“I truly hope that that does not come about,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

The US has vetoed three resolutions demanding a ceasefire in Gaza, the most recent an Arab-backed measure on February 20. That resolution was supported by 13 council members with one abstention, reflecting the overwhelming support for a ceasefire.

Russia and China vetoed a US-sponsored resolution in late October calling for pauses in the fighting to deliver aid, the protection of civilians and a halt to arming Hamas. They said it did not reflect global calls for a ceasefire.

They again vetoed the US resolution Friday, calling it ambiguous and saying it was not the direct demand to end the fighting that much of the world seeks.

The vote became another showdown involving world powers that are locked in tense disputes elsewhere, with the US taking criticism for not being tough enough against its ally Israel, even as tensions between the two countries rise.

A key issue was the unusual language in the US draft. It said the Security Council “determines the imperative of an immediate and sustained ceasefire.” The phrasing was not a straightforward “demand” or “call” to halt hostilities.

Before the vote, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said Moscow supports an immediate ceasefire, but he criticized the diluted language, which he called philosophical wording that does not belong in a UN resolution.

He accused US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield of “deliberately misleading the international community” about calling for a ceasefire.

File: Vassily Nebenzia, Permanent Representative of Russia to the United Nations, center, speaks with Palestinian Observer to the UN, Riyad Mansour, as members of the UN Security Council went into closed consultations at UN headquarters, October 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

“This was some kind of an empty rhetorical exercise,” Nebenzia said. “The American product is exceedingly politicized, the sole purpose of which is to help to play to the voters, to throw them a bone in the form of some kind of a mention of a ceasefire in Gaza… and to ensure the impunity of Israel, whose crimes in the draft are not even assessed.”

China’s UN ambassador, Zhang Jun, said the US proposal set preconditions and fell far short of the expectations of council members and the broader international community.

“If the US was serious about a ceasefire, it wouldn’t have vetoed time and again multiple council resolutions,” he said. “It wouldn’t have taken such a detour and played a game of words while being ambiguous and evasive on critical issues.”

Friday’s vote in the 15-member council was 11 members in favor and three against, including Algeria, the Arab representative on the council. There was one abstention, from Guyana.

File: Zhang Jun, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of China to the United Nations, speaks during a Security Council meeting at UN headquarters, March. 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

After the vote, Thomas-Greenfield accused Russia and China of vetoing the resolution for “deeply cynical reasons,” saying they could not bring themselves to condemn Hamas’s terror onslaught in southern Israel on October 7, which the resolution would have done for the first time.

A second “petty” reason, she said, is that “Russia and China simply did not want to vote for a resolution that was penned by the United States, because it would rather see us fail than to see this council succeed.” She accused Russia of again putting “politics over progress” and having “the audacity and hypocrisy to throw stones” after launching an unwarranted invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The resolution did reflect a shift by the US, which has found itself at odds with much of the world as even allies of Israel push for an unconditional end to fighting.

In previous resolutions, the US has closely intertwined calls for a ceasefire with demands for the release of Israeli hostages in Gaza. This resolution, using wording that’s open to interpretation, continued to link the two issues, but not as firmly.

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