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US abstains, allowing UN Security Council resolution on Gaza to pass

 People gather during the Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters on Dec 22, 2023. After many delays, the UN Security Council adopted a watered-down resolution Friday calling for immediately speeding up aid deliveries to civilians in Gaza. [AP Photo]

After days of intense negotiations on a humanitarian pause and the delivery of aid to the war-torn Gaza Strip, the United States abstained Friday on a United Nations Security Council resolution, allowing its adoption by the 15-member body."Today this council called for urgent steps to immediately allow safe, unhindered and expanded humanitarian access and to create the conditions for sustainable cessation of hostilities," said U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, underscoring the first time the council used such language.Hostages must be immediately released, she said, and both Israel and Hamas must respect international humanitarian law. She added that the U.S. is "deeply disappointed" the resolution did not condemn Hamas' October 7 terror attacks that killed 1,200 people in Israel.Russia, which wanted stronger criticism of Israel in the resolution, also abstained, calling the final draft that contained amendments pushed by Washington "extremely neutered" and "toothless.""The text of the draft has lost a reference to condemnations of all indiscriminate attacks on civilians," said Russian Ambassador to the U.N. Vassily Nebenzya, speaking through an interpreter. "What signal does this send to the international community? That the Security Council is giving Israel a green light for war crimes?"The Russian ambassador chided council members for the move to "rubber stamp a decision that is convenient for Washington."Thomas-Greenfield dismissed Nebenzya’s "rant." Russia "also created conditions that they are complaining about now in their unprovoked war in Ukraine," she noted.

Avoiding US vetoDiplomats had been working since Monday on the resolution drafted by the United Arab Emirates, seeking to avoid language that had brought repeated U.S. vetoes of U.N. votes since Israel launched its military operation in Gaza.The more than 10-week-old campaign has killed more than 20,000 people in Gaza, according to the health ministry there.

The two sticking points for Israel and the U.S. were calls for a cessation of hostilities and disagreement over who will inspect goods going into Gaza to screen out weapons and other equipment that would help Hamas. Convoy inspection is currently done only by Israel.Rather than demanding a cease-fire, the final text calls for the warring parties to create "the conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities." Neither the United States nor Israel currently supports a cease-fire, saying it would allow Hamas to regroup.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who under the original draft was to have "exclusive" control over all truck inspections, will now appoint a senior coordinator to establish a U.N. mechanism for accelerating the provision of humanitarian relief.Following the vote, Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Gilad Erdan thanked the U.S. for "standing on Israel's side" and "maintaining defined red lines" of Israel's authority to inspect aid entering Gaza."The failures of the U.N. in the last 17 years have allowed Hamas to dig terror tunnels and manufacture missiles and rockets," he said. "It is clear that the U.N. cannot be trusted to monitor the incoming aid to the Gaza Strip."

Softened languageA diplomatic source who asked not to be identified told VOA that U.S. moves to soften the language of the resolution, particularly on cease-fire calls, angered many U.N. member states.However, earlier in the week, diplomats were resigned to another U.S. veto, so most UNSC members will be "profoundly relieved" that the U.S. is allowing the resolution to pass, said Richard Gowan, U.N. director of the International Crisis Group.'There was a lot of gossip at the start of the week about [U.S.] President [Joe] Biden personally opposing the resolution after a call with [Israeli] Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu," Gowan told VOA. "This is a win for Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who went all-out to persuade the White House the U.S. should compromise rather than just block the text."Thomas-Greenfield rejected allegations the final text is watered down, telling reporters late Thursday it was "a very strong resolution that is fully supported by the Arab group."

In a signal of increasing U.S. and Israeli isolation on the world stage, earlier this month the U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to adopt a resolution demanding an "immediate humanitarian cease-fire," with 153 member states in favor, 10 against, and 23 abstentions. Unlike UNSC resolutions, the UNGA's are non-binding.During a White House press briefing Thursday, the National Security Council's John Kirby told VOA he took issue with "the premise of the question that we're somehow singularly isolated.""All you have to do is look at what we've been able to do around the world and see that American leadership still matters, that America's views still matter," he said.Harsh words for IsraelDuring a press conference after the UNSC vote, Guterres repeated calls for a cease-fire as the only means to meet the "desperate needs of people in Gaza and end their ongoing nightmare."The U.N. chief had harsh words for Israel, underscoring that its military campaign is "creating massive obstacles" to Gazans getting much-needed help.

"An effective aid operation in Gaza requires security; staff who can work in safety; logistical capacity; and the resumption of commercial activity," he said. "These four elements do not exist."

When asked if Hamas had a role in blocking aid, Guterres said it’s "obviously not the major factor."Guterres added that Hamas' use of civilians as human shields and its continued firing of rockets at civilian targets "can never justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people," and "do not free Israel from its own legal obligations."Catastrophic levels of food insecurity

A U.N.-backed body that issues famine warnings, known as the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, or IPC, warned that the entire population of Gaza — more than 2 million people — is at crisis levels or worse of hunger."WFP has warned of this coming catastrophe for weeks," World Food Program Executive Director Cindy McCain said of the IPC’s findings. "Tragically, without the safe, consistent access we have been calling for, the situation is desperate, and no one in Gaza is safe from starvation."

The United Nations Children’s Fund, also known as UNICEF, said that in the coming weeks, at least 10,000 children under 5 years old will suffer the most life-threatening form of malnutrition, known as severe wasting, and will need therapeutic foods.Israel says it is cooperating in allowing aid to enter Gaza. On Sunday, it opened the Kerem Shalom border crossing — near the borders of Israel, Gaza Strip and Egypt — for aid convoys to transit. The Israeli military says it is allowing brief tactical pauses in some areas of southern Gaza for civilians to get food and water.

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