UN head: Gaza at breaking point; Israel: Hamas must be destroyed

US vetoes UN Security Council resolution demanding immediate ceasefire in Gaza Strip

13 of 15 council members back call for truce after 2 months of war; UK abstains, citing failure to condemn Hamas; Israeli envoy thanks US for ‘standing steadfastly’ with Israel

US Ambassador Alternate Representative of the US for Special Political Affairs in the United Nations Robert A. Wood raises his hand during a United Nations Security Council meeting on Gaza, at UN headquarters in New York City on December 8, 2023 (Charly Triballeau/AFP)
US Ambassador Alternate Representative of the US for Special Political Affairs in the United Nations Robert A. Wood raises his hand during a United Nations Security Council meeting on Gaza, at UN headquarters in New York City on December 8, 2023 (Charly Triballeau/AFP)

UNITED NATIONS  — The United States vetoed a United Nations resolution Friday backed by almost all other Security Council members and many other nations demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, where Palestinian civilians are facing what the UN chief calls a “humanitarian nightmare.”

US Deputy Ambassador Robert Wood criticized the council after the vote for its failure to condemn Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacres in Israel in which thousands of terrorists killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took about 240 hostages, or to acknowledge Israel’s right to defend itself.

Wood said the resolution was “divorced from reality” and “would have not moved the needle forward on the ground.” He declared that halting military action would allow Hamas to continue to rule Gaza and “only plant the seeds for the next war.”

He attacked the resolution’s sponsors, criticizing them for rushing it through and leaving the call for an unconditional ceasefire unchanged.

“For that reason, while the United States strongly supports a durable peace, in which both Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace and security, we do not support calls for an immediate ceasefire,” Wood said.

After the vote, Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan thanked US President Joe Biden for “standing steadfastly” with Israel. “A little light rejected a lot of darkness,” Erdan said, alluding to the Hanukkah festival which began on Thursday night.

“A ceasefire is possible, only with the return of all the hostages and destruction of Hamas,” Erdan added.

On Saturday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement expressing appreciation for the veto. Hailing the US position as “correct,” Netanyahu said “other countries too need to understand that it is impossible to support the elimination of Hamas on one hand, and on the other hand call for the halting of the war, which would prevent the elimination of Hamas.”

Therefore, the premier said, “Israel will continue our justified war aimed at eliminating Hamas and at achieving the rest of the war goals that we have set.”

Thirteen members of the council voted in favor of the motion, while the United Kingdom abstained.

The Arab-backed measure, presented by the United Arab Emirates, described the humanitarian situation in Gaza as “catastrophic” and called for the protection of civilians, the immediate and unconditional release of all the hostages Hamas is still holding, and humanitarian access to the Gaza Strip.

In a vain effort to press the Biden administration to drop its opposition to a ceasefire, the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and other leading Arab nations and Turkey were in Washington on Friday. But their meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken was scheduled to take place only after the UN vote.

French Ambassador to the United Nations Nicolas de Riviere (C) raises his hand in favor of a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza during a United Nations Security Council meeting at UN headquarters in New York on December 8, 2023. (Charly Triballeau/AFP)

Israel’s more than two-month military campaign has claimed the lives of over 17,000 in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry, which does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths. The figures cannot be verified, but the total number is largely in line with an assessment by Israel, which said it believes more than 5,000 of those killed are Hamas operatives. The figures also include many killed by rockets fired by Gazan terror groups at Israeli communities that fall short in the Strip and at least 1,000 terrorists who were killed on October 7.

War erupted between Israel and Hamas after the Hamas-led October 7 massacres, in which some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing some 240 hostages of all ages under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities. The vast majority of those killed as gunmen seized border communities were civilians — including babies, children and the elderly. Entire families were executed in their homes, and over 360 were slaughtered at an outdoor festival, many amid horrific acts of brutality by the terrorists. Some 140 of the hostages are still being held.

The Security Council called the emergency meeting to hear from Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who for the first time invoked Article 99 of the UN Charter, which enables a UN chief to raise threats he sees to international peace and security. He warned of a “humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza and urged the council to demand a humanitarian ceasefire.

Guterres said he raised Article 99 — which hadn’t been used at the UN since 1971 — because “there is a high risk of the total collapse of the humanitarian support system in Gaza.” The UN anticipates this would result in “a complete breakdown of public order and increased pressure for mass displacement into Egypt,” he warned.

Gaza is at “a breaking point,” he said, and desperate people are at serious risk of starvation.

Guterres said Hamas’ brutality against Israelis on Oct. 7 “can never justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”

“While indiscriminate rocket fire by Hamas into Israel, and the use of civilians as human shields, are in contravention of the laws of war, such conduct does not absolve Israel of its own violations,” he stressed.

The UN chief detailed the “humanitarian nightmare” Gaza is facing, citing intense, widespread and ongoing Israeli attacks from air, land and sea that reportedly have hit 339 education facilities, 26 hospitals, 56 health care facilities, 88 mosques and three churches.

Over 60% of Gaza’s housing has reportedly been destroyed or damaged, some 85% of the population has been forced from their homes, the health system is collapsing, and “nowhere in Gaza is safe,” Guterres said.

A general view shows the United Nations Security Council after the vote about a ceasefire in Gaza at UN headquarters in New York on December 8, 2023. (Charly Triballeau/AFP)

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas following October 7 while also exercising caution to protect civilians and accusing Hamas terrorists of intentionally using them as human shields. According to Israeli defense officials, Hamas fighters are deeply entrenched inside Gaza’s civilian fabric, with tunnels, and command bunkers running beneath residential neighborhoods, hospitals, schools and UN facilities.

Hamas is avowedly committed to the destruction of Israel, and one of its leaders said last month that it intends to carry out massacres such as those on October 7 until the Jewish state is eliminated.

Before the vote Friday, the terror group called on the Security Council to “save the Gaza Strip” and end the “brutal war,” sparked by the unprecedented October 7 attack by Hamas-led terrorists.

A grab from a UGC video posted on the Telegram channel ‘South First Responders’ on October 9, 2023, shows a Palestinian terrorist walking around the Supernova music festival, near Kibbutz Re’im in southern Israel on October 7. (South First Responders/AFP)

Izzat al-Risheq, a member of Hamas’s political bureau, later condemned the US veto as ” unethical and inhumane.”

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian Authority UN ambassador, told the council that Israel’s objective was “the ethnic cleansing of the Gaza Strip” and “the dispossession and forcible displacement of the Palestinian people.”

“If you are against the destruction and displacement of the Palestinian people, you have to be in favor of an immediate ceasefire,” Mansour said. “When you refuse to call for a ceasefire, you are refusing to call for the only thing that can put an end to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.”

Erdan stressed that regional stability and the security of Israelis and Gazans “can only be achieved once Hamas is eliminated — not one minute before.”

“So the true path to ensure peace is only through supporting Israel’s mission — absolutely not to call for a ceasefire,” he told the council. “Israel committed itself to the elimination of Hamas’ capabilities for the sole reason of ensuring that such horrors could never be repeated again. And if Hamas is not destroyed, such horrors will be repeated.”

The UK’s representative to the UN, Barbara Woodward, said Britain abstained because the resolution did not condemn Hamas and its October 7 atrocities. “Calling for a ceasefire ignores the fact that Hamas has committed acts of terror and is still holding civilians hostage,” she said. “We cannot vote in favor of a resolution which does not condemn the atrocities Hamas committed against innocent Israeli civilians.

Woodward said the UK was “gravely concerned” about the humanitarian situation in Gaza and called for “further and longer” humanitarian pauses in the fighting to deliver aid and free more hostages.

In Washington, Jordan’s top diplomat told reporters that the killings of Palestinian civilians in Israel’s bombardment and siege of Gaza were war crimes and threatened to destabilize the region, the US and the world for years to come.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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