Foreign Ministry: No pauses until hostages freed

UN Security Council approves resolution calling for ‘humanitarian pauses’ in Gaza

Resolution, which passes in fifth attempt, uses watered down language, does not mention ceasefire, calls for ‘immediate and unconditional release of all hostages’ held by Hamas

File: The UN Security Council holds a moment of silence before meeting on the Israel-Hamas war, at UN Headquarters in New York City, on November 10, 2023. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP)
File: The UN Security Council holds a moment of silence before meeting on the Israel-Hamas war, at UN Headquarters in New York City, on November 10, 2023. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP)

The UN Security Council approved a resolution Wednesday calling for “urgent and extended humanitarian pauses and corridors throughout the Gaza Strip” after four failed attempts to respond to the Israel-Hamas war.

The vote was 12-0 with the United States, United Kingdom, and Russia abstaining.

The final draft watered down language from a “demand” to a “call” for humanitarian pauses. It also watered down a demand for “the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages held by Hamas and other groups.”

The resolution makes no mention of a ceasefire. It also doesn’t refer to Hamas’s devastating October 7 onslaught on Israel, in which terrorists rampaged through southern communities, killing over 1,200 people, mostly civilians butchered in their homes and at a music festival, and kidnapping some 240 people. Israel then declared war with the aim of toppling the terror group’s regime in Gaza, which it has ruled since 2007.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said Tuesday that 11,500 people had been killed in Gaza since the start of the war, in figures that cannot be independently verified, do not distinguish between civilians and terror operatives, and also include those killed in hundreds of failed Palestinian rocket launches.

Russia proposed an amendment to the resolution before the vote that would have called for durable humanitarian pauses leading to a ceasefire. But it was rejected by a vote of 5-1 with nine abstentions because it failed to get the minimum nine “yes” votes.

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip displaced by the Israel-Hamas war prepare bread in a UNDP-provided tent camp in Khan Younis, November 15, 2023. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

But the resolution, sponsored by Malta, did bring the 15 members of the UN’s most powerful body together in a first response to the ongoing war that is having catastrophic humanitarian consequences in Gaza.

The resolution asks that “all parties comply with their obligations under international law, notably with regard to the protection of civilians, especially children.”

Responding to the vote, Israel’s ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan said the resolution “will have no meaning in practice” as Israel “is acting according to international law, while the Hamas terrorists will not read the resolution at all and will not act on it.”

“It is unfortunate that the council continues to ignore and not condemn or even mention the massacre committed by Hamas that led to the war in Gaza. It’s shameful. Israel will continue to act until Hamas is destroyed and the hostages are returned,” Erdan said in a statement.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry also demanded that the Security Council work to free the hostages held in the Strip as well as “condemn Hamas unequivocally and address the need to create a different security reality in Gaza.”

In a statement, the Foreign Ministry said there was “no room for extended humanitarian pauses as long as 239 hostages are still in the hands of Hamas terrorists.”

Several reports Wednesday indicated that there is a potential deal in the works to free a number of captives in exchange for a several-day pause in fighting.

Malta’s UN envoy Vanessa Frazier said before the vote that “the Security Council members are united in wanting a voice.”

While recognizing the “nuances” between their positions, she said all 15 members have “the desire to save life and provide respite” to civilians.

UN Security Council resolutions are legally binding, but in practice, many parties choose to ignore the council’s requests for action.

Richard Gowan, UN director for the International Crisis Group, said the Security Council has called for ceasefires in wars from the Balkans to Syria “with little or no impact.”

The Security Council, which has the responsibility for maintaining international peace and security, has been paralyzed since the war began by its internal divisions. This is especially the case between China and Russia, which want an immediate ceasefire, and the United States, which has called for humanitarian pauses but objects to any mention of a ceasefire, which its close ally Israel strongly opposes.

“I know we are all disappointed about the inaction of the Council in the past 40 days,” China’s UN ambassador Jun Zhang said earlier Wednesday.

The resolution calls for humanitarian pauses and corridors throughout the Gaza Strip for a “sufficient number of days” for unhindered access by the UN, Red Cross, and other aid groups to get water, electricity, fuel, food, and medical supplies to all those in need. It says the pauses also should allow for the repair of essential infrastructure and enable urgent rescue and recovery efforts.

An Egyptian fuel truck waits on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing with the southern Gaza Strip, November 15, 2023 (AFP)

In the four previous tries for Security Council approval, a Brazil-drafted resolution was vetoed by the United States, a US-drafted resolution was vetoed by Russia and China and two Russian-drafted resolutions failed to get the minimum “yes” votes.

After the fourth failure, frustrated Arab nations turned to the 193-member General Assembly and succeeded in getting wide approval for a resolution calling for a “humanitarian truce” in Gaza meant to lead to a cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hamas.

It was the first United Nations response to the war. But unlike Security Council resolutions, General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, though they are a barometer of world opinion.

The vote was 120-14 with 45 abstentions. Of the five veto-holding Security Council members, Russia, China, and France voted in favor, the United States voted against and Britain abstained.

The General Assembly resolution was adopted on October 27, and Israel agreed on November 9 to four-hour pauses. But only limited aid has been delivered to Gaza through the Rafah crossing from Egypt, and a humanitarian crisis has been brewing.

The Crisis Group’s Gowan said US opposition to a ceasefire “is a gift that keeps on giving for Russia diplomatically.” He said that while many diplomats think Russia is demanding a cease-fire “for largely cynical reasons to make the Americans look bad,” Moscow’s position “is closer to the mainstream of council thinking, and the US looks isolated.”

“A UN cease-fire call would embarrass but not really constrain the Israelis,” he told the AP. “But the US clearly feels that even such a symbolic move is too much of a political risk.”

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