Russia and China veto after US says resolution declaring immediate Gaza cease-fire is ‘imperative’

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Russia and China on Friday vetoed a U.S.-sponsored U.N. resolution calling for “an immediate and sustained cease-fire” in the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza to protect civilians and enable humanitarian aid to be delivered to more than 2 million hungry Palestinians.

The vote in the 15-member Security Council was 11 members in favor and three against, including Algeria, the Arab representative on the council. There was one abstention, from Guyana.

Before the vote, Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said Moscow supports an immediate cease-fire, but he criticized diluted language that referred to moral imperatives, which he called philosophical wording that does not belong in a U.N. resolution.

He accused U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield of “deliberately misleading the international community.”

“This was some kind of an empty rhetorical exercise,” Nebenzia said. “The American product is exceedingly politicized, the sole purpose of which is to help to play to the voters, to throw them a bone in the form of some kind of a mention of a cease-fire in Gaza … and to ensure the impunity of Israel, whose crimes in the draft are not even assessed.”

Thomas-Greenfield urged the council to adopt the resolution to press for an immediate cease-fire and the release of the hostages, as well as to address Gaza’s humanitarian crisis and support ongoing diplomacy by the United States, Egypt and Qatar.

After the vote, Thomas-Greenfield accused Russia and China of voting for “deeply cynical reasons,” saying they could not bring themselves to condemn Hamas’ terrorist attacks in southern Israel on Oct. 7, which the resolution would have done for the first time.

A key issue in the vote was the unusual language related to a cease-fire. It said the Security Council “determines the imperative of an immediate and sustained cease-fire,” – not a straight-forward “demand” or “call.”

The resolution did reflect a shift by the United States, which has found itself at odds with much of the world as even close allies push for an unconditional end to fighting.

In previous resolutions, the U.S. has closely intertwined calls for a cease-fire with demands for the release of Israeli hostages in Gaza. This resolution, through awkward wording that’s open to interpretation, continued to link the two issues, but not as firmly.

While the resolution would have been officially binding under international law, it would not have ended the fighting or led to the release of hostages. But it would have added to the pressure on Israel as its closest ally falls more in line with global demands for a cease-fire at a time of rising tensions between the U.S. and Israeli governments.

Meanwhile, the 10 elected members of the Security Council have put their own resolution in a final form to be voted on. It demands an immediate humanitarian cease-fire for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan that began March 10 to be “respected by all parties leading to a permanent sustainable cease-fire.” Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. ambassador, told reporters the vote would take place either late Friday or Saturday morning.

The resolution also demands “the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages ” and emphasizes the urgent need to protect civilians and deliver humanitarian aid throughout the Gaza Strip.

Nebenzia urged council members to support it, but Thomas-Greenfield said the text’s current form “fails to support sensitive diplomacy in the region. Worse, it could actually give Hamas an excuse to walk away from the deal on the table.”

The Security Council had already adopted two resolutions on the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza, but none has called for a cease-fire.

Russia and China vetoed a U.S.-sponsored resolution in late October calling for pauses in the fighting to deliver aid, protection of civilians and a halt to arming Hamas. They said it did not reflect global calls for a cease-fire.

The U.S. has vetoed three resolutions demanding a cease-fire, the most recent an Arab-backed measure supported by 13 council members with one abstention on Feb. 20.

A day earlier, the U.S. circulated a rival resolution, which went through major changes during negotiations before Friday’s vote. It initially would have supported a temporary cease-fire linked to the release of all hostages, and the previous draft would have supported international efforts for a cease-fire as part of a hostage deal.

The vote took place as Blinken, America’s top diplomat, is on his sixth urgent mission to the Middle East since the Israel-Hamas war, discussing a deal for a cease-fire and hostage release, as well as post-war scenarios.

Palestinian militants killed some 1,200 people in the surprise Oct. 7 attack into southern Israel that triggered the war, and abducted another 250 people. Hamas is still believed to be holding some 100 people hostage, as well as the remains of 30 others.

In Gaza, the Health Ministry raised the death toll in the territory Thursday to nearly 32,000 Palestinians. The agency does not differentiate between civilians and combatants in its count but says women and children make up two-thirds of the dead.

The international community’s authority on determining the severity of hunger crises warned this week that “famine is imminent” in northern Gaza, where 70% of people are experiencing catastrophic hunger. The report from the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification initiative, or IPC, warned that escalation of the war could push half of Gaza’s total population to the brink of starvation.

The U.S. draft expressed “deep concern about the threat of conflict-induced famine and epidemics presently facing the civilian population in Gaza as well as the number of undernourished people, and also that hunger in Gaza has reached catastrophic levels.”

It emphasized “the urgent need to expand the flow of humanitarian assistance to civilians in the entire Gaza Strip” and lift all barriers to getting aid to civilians “at scale.”

Israel faces mounting pressure to streamline the entry of aid into the Gaza Strip, to open more land crossings and to come to a cease-fire agreement. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to move the military offensive to the southern city of Rafah, where some 1.3 million displaced Palestinians have sought safety. Netanyahu says it’s a Hamas stronghold.

The final U.S. draft eliminated language in the initial draft that said Israel’s offensive in Rafah “should not proceed under current circumstances.” Instead, in an introductory paragraph, the council emphasized its concern that a ground offensive into Rafah “would result in further harm to civilians and their further displacement, potentially into neighboring countries, and would have serious implications for regional peace and security.”

Copyright © 2024 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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