UN General Assembly overwhelmingly passes nonbinding motion demanding Gaza ceasefire

153 vote in favor of resolution; Israel, US and just 8 others oppose it; Israeli envoy displays phone number of Hamas offices in Strip: Call Sinwar when you want ‘real’ truce

Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan holds up a Hamas phone number during the UN General Assembly vote on a non-binding resolution demanding "an immediate humanitarian ceasefire" in Gaza, at UN headquarters in New York, on December 12, 2023. (Angela Weiss/AFP)
Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan holds up a Hamas phone number during the UN General Assembly vote on a non-binding resolution demanding "an immediate humanitarian ceasefire" in Gaza, at UN headquarters in New York, on December 12, 2023. (Angela Weiss/AFP)

The UN General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a nonbinding resolution Tuesday demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza and the immediate, unconditional release of all hostages.

The vote in the 193-member world body was 153 in favor, 10 against and 23 abstentions, and ambassadors and other diplomats burst into applause as the final numbers were displayed. The United States and Israel were joined in opposing the resolution by just eight countries — Austria, Czechia, Guatemala, Liberia, Micronesia, Nauru, Papua New Guinea and Paraguay.

The resolution (full text at bottom of this piece) makes no mention of Hamas, and the assembly defeated two proposed amendments mentioning the terror group. Hamas sparked the ongoing war in Gaza on October 7, when thousands of its terrorists burst through the Gaza border and launched a shock assault on southern Israel. They rampaged murderously through communities and a massive outdoor music festival, slaughtering 1,200 people, mostly civilians, amid acts of horrific brutality including executions, rapes, burnings and beheadings, and abducted over 240 people to Gaza.

One of the resolutions rejected by the General Assembly, proposed by the United States, would have added a paragraph stating that the assembly “unequivocally rejects and condemns the heinous terrorist attacks by Hamas.” The other, proposed by Austria, would have specified a call for the immediate release of hostages “held by Hamas and other groups.”

The Palestinian Authority’s envoy to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, said the vote marked “a historic day in terms of the powerful message that was sent from the General Assembly.”

The vote came after the UN Security Council — responsible for global peace and security — has repeatedly tried but failed to insist upon a ceasefire. On Friday, the United States, Israel’s most powerful ally and one of only five permanent members of the Security Council, wielded its veto to halt the latest draft text calling for a truce.

“These tragic attempts are a despicable sign of double standards,” Egypt’s ambassador to the UN Osama Mahmoud Abdelkhalek Mahmoud said of Washington’s efforts to provide Israel diplomatic cover ahead of the vote in the General Assembly.

A screen shows the result of a United Nations General Assembly vote on a non-binding resolution demanding “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire” in Gaza, at UN headquarters in New York on December 12, 2023. (Angela Weiss/AFP)

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned of a looming “complete breakdown of public order” in the Gaza Strip.

Many countries and human rights organizations condemned the result of last Friday’s Security Council vote, and Guterres on Sunday described the council’s authority and credibility as “undermined.”

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the General Assembly on Tuesday that “how Israel defends itself matters,” and she delivered several US demands, which she said the Biden administration will press at the highest levels in israel.

“Israel must avoid mass displacement of civilians in the south of Gaza,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “It must ensure sufficient humanitarian assistance to those who have fled violence and it must allow civilians in Gaza to return home as soon as conditions allow.”

But she made clear that the US remains committed to Israel’s right to defend itself. She asked assembly members why it was so difficult for UN nations to condemn Hamas’s “terrorist actions” on October 7, “to say unequivocally that murdering babies and gunning down parents in front of their children is horrific, that burning down houses while families shelter inside and taking civilian hostages in abhorrent.”

Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan warned before the vote that a ceasefire “will only prolong the death and destruction in the region” and will be “a death sentence for countless more Israelis and Gazans.”

“A ceasefire means one thing and one thing only — ensuring the survival of Hamas, ensuring the survival of genocidal terrorists committed to the annihilation of Israel and Jews,” he said.

He also slammed the resolution as “hypocritical.”

“Not only does it fail to condemn Hamas for its crimes against humanity — it doesn’t mention Hamas at all,” he said.

Erdan said if UN member nations want “a real ceasefire” they should call Hamas’ office in Gaza. He held up a sign with a phone number and the name Yahya Sinwar, the mastermind of the Hamas attack, who is at the top of Israel’s hit list.

“Tell Hamas to put down their arms, turn themselves in and return our hostages. This will bring a complete ceasefire that will last forever,” the Israeli envoy said.

Israel has been waging a military campaign aimed at toppling Hamas since the Gaza-ruling terror group’s devastating October 7 onslaught.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says more than 18,400 Palestinians have died in Israel’s bombardment since. The Hamas figures cannot be verified independently and do not differentiate between civilians and fighters. Israel says it has killed 7,000 Hamas gunmen in Gaza, as well as 1,000 who were killed in Israel on October 7. Hamas also embeds its military infrastructure — rocket launchers, weapons depots, tunnel shafts — deeply within the civilian population of Gaza.

Arab countries had called for the new special session of the General Assembly, seeking to build pressure just after a visit to the Rafah border point by more than a dozen Security Council ambassadors.

The text that was passed on Tuesday largely reproduced the resolution blocked in the Security Council on Friday by the United States.

Expressing concern at the “catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip,” it “demands an immediate humanitarian ceasefire,” and calls for the protection of civilians, humanitarian access, and the “immediate and unconditional” release of all hostages.

Trucks with humanitarian aid wait to enter the Palestinian side of Rafah on the Egyptian border with the Gaza Strip on December 11, 2023. (Giuseppe Cacace/AFP)

Ahead of vote, the prime ministers of Australia, Canada and New Zealand — close allies of Israel as well as the United States — said in a joint statement that “we are alarmed at the diminishing safe space for civilians in Gaza.”

“The price of defeating Hamas cannot be the continuous suffering of all Palestinian civilians,” said Anthony Albanese, Justin Trudeau and Christopher Luxon.

They also called for “the immediate and unconditional release of all remaining hostages” held by Hamas in Gaza and said that while “defending itself, Israel must respect international humanitarian law.”

The statement said they want to see the temporary truce “resumed and support urgent international efforts towards a sustainable ceasefire. This cannot be one-sided. Hamas must release all hostages, stop using Palestinian civilians as human shields, and lay down its arms.”

“There is no role for Hamas in the future governance of Gaza,” they added.

Text of the adopted resolution

Protection of civilians and upholding legal and humanitarian obligations 

The General Assembly, 

Guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations,

Recalling its resolutions regarding the question of Palestine,

Recalling also all relevant Security Council resolutions,

Taking note of the letter dated 6 December 2023 from the Secretary-General, under Article 99 of the Charter of the United Nations, addressed to the President of the Security Council,

Taking note also of the letter dated 7 December 2023 from the Commissioner General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East addressed to the President of the General Assembly,

Expressing grave concern over the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and the suffering of the Palestinian civilian population, and emphasizing that the Palestinian and Israeli civilian populations must be protected in accordance with international humanitarian law,

1. Demands an immediate humanitarian ceasefire;

2. Reiterates its demand that all parties comply with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law, notably with regard to the protection of civilians;

3. Demands the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, as well as ensuring humanitarian access;

4. Decides to adjourn the tenth emergency special session temporarily and to authorize the President of the General Assembly at its most recent session to resume its meeting upon request from Member States.

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