UN Security Council delays vote on call for broad humanitarian access to Gaza


Trucks loaded with humanitarian aid entered Gaza through the Rafah border crossing on Oct 21, 2023. [Xinhua]

Israel carried out fresh airstrikes Tuesday along with its ground campaign against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, while the United States mobilized allies to protect shipping lanes in the Red Sea from Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The Israeli military said Tuesday its latest targets included compounds used by Hamas, and that Israeli troops had destroyed a tunnel shaft in southern Gaza.

The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said Israeli strikes killed at least 20 people in Rafah, a southern city located near the border with Egypt where thousands of civilians have fled.

The telecommunications and internet shutdown in Gaza eased slightly, with services reportedly partially restored in the southern part of Gaza. The communications blackout that began Thursday is the longest since the war began.

In New York, the U.N. Security Council delayed a vote on a resolution calling for a pause in fighting to facilitate scaled-up aid deliveries to Gazans in dire need of food, water and medicine.

The vote had been expected Monday but was pushed back amid negotiations about the text as its drafter, the United Arab Emirates, sought support for the resolution.

The draft resolution in its current form seen by VOA "demands" that the parties to the conflict "allow, facilitate and enable the immediate, safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance at scale directly to the Palestinian civilian population throughout the Gaza Strip" by the most direct routes. It also "calls for the urgent suspension of hostilities" to allow safe and unhindered aid access.

The text also authorizes a U.N. monitoring mechanism to confirm the humanitarian nature of aid shipments into Gaza through multiple entry points.

An attempt to adopt a resolution in the council on December 8 calling for a humanitarian cease-fire failed due to the United States using its veto.

As the vote was pushed from Tuesday morning to early afternoon, U.S. Deputy U.N. Ambassador Bob Wood told reporters, "We are still working on it."

It was finally postponed till Wednesday.

UAE envoy Lana Nusseibeh said to reporters, "Ultimately, the endpoint is a cease-fire, but as you know, that was not adopted recently. So, we have to move to the space that allows humanitarian workers to work safely and at scale."

Israel's president told a gathering of international diplomats Tuesday that Israel is prepared to enter into a further humanitarian pause in return for the release of its hostages held by Hamas.

"I can reiterate the fact that Israel is ready for another humanitarian pause and additional humanitarian aid in order to enable the release of hostages," President Isaac Herzog said. "And the responsibility lies fully with [Yahya] Sinwar and the leadership of Hamas."

Sinwar is a leader of Hamas, which the United States has designated as a terrorist group.

Herzog said Israel is not fighting the Palestinian people, only Hamas, and is "doing an enormous effort in order to increase the humanitarian aid to Gaza."

This week, Israel opened the Kerem Shalom border crossing for aid to cross directly into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

"Calls for a cease-fire on human rights and humanitarian grounds are getting louder by the day and must be heeded," Volker Türk, U.N. high commissioner for human rights, told reporters in Geneva.

Red Sea protection force

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced Tuesday the formation of a multinational maritime security initiative called Operation Prosperity Guardian to protect vital shipping lanes in the Red Sea.

The move comes after repeated attacks by Houthi rebels in Yemen who have pledged to target vessels bound for Israel. Mohamed Abdel-Salam, the Houthis' chief negotiator and spokesman, said on X that the new initiative will not stop their attacks, saying the Houthi actions are "legitimate operations in support of Gaza."

Austin said in addition to the United States, other countries providing joint patrols or intelligence support include Britain, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain.

"This is an international challenge that demands collective action," Austin said.

When pressed for details, the White House said the operation was in its early days.

"There's going to be a whole lot of hardware in the Red Sea now," said John Kirby, director for strategic communications at the National Security Council. "Naval hardware, not not just from the United States, but other ships from other nations to counter these threats. So, let's see where it goes. ... I'm certainly not going to telegraph any punches one way or the other."

The Pentagon said the Houthis have conducted 100 attacks using drones and ballistic missiles, targeting 10 merchant vessels.

The attacks have prompted some freight companies to reroute shipments, using much longer paths around southern Africa's Cape of Good Hope.

Israel vowed to destroy Hamas, which governs Gaza, after Hamas fighters crossed into southern Israel on October 7. Israel said 1,200 people were killed and some 240 captives taken in the terror attack. More than 100 of the hostages remain in Gaza.

The Israeli response has killed more than 19,400 people in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry, which does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths. Israel says 131 of its soldiers have died in its ground offensive.

The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, says the conflict has forced an estimated 85% of Gaza's population from their homes, with many of them trying to find a safe place to stay at U.N. shelters in southern Gaza that are several times over their intended capacity.