The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday adopted its first resolution since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war, calling for “urgent and extended humanitarian pauses” in Gaza to address the escalating crisis for Palestinian civilians during Israel’s aerial and ground attacks.
The vote in the 15-member council was 12-0 with the United States, United Kingdom and Russia abstaining. The U.S. and U.K. abstained because of the resolution’s failure to condemn the Oct. 7 incursion by Hamas, and Russia because of its failure to demand a humanitarian cease-fire, which Israel and the United States oppose.
The final draft watered down language from “demands” to “calls” for humanitarian pauses, and for “the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages held by Hamas and other groups.”
Still, the resolution, which was sponsored by Malta, managed to overcome the serious differences that had prevented the council from adopting four previous resolutions.
In their Oct. 7 attacks in Israel, Hamas militants killed around 1,200 people and took some 240 others hostage. Israel responded with airstrikes and a ground offensive in Hamas-ruled Gaza, which Gaza’s health ministry says have killed more than 11,000 Palestinians, two-thirds of them women and children.
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia tried unsuccessfully to amend the resolution just before the vote with language from a resolution adopted Oct. 27 by the 193-member General Assembly. It calls for an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities.”
The vote on the amendment was five countries in favor, the U.S. opposed, and nine abstentions. It was not adopted because it failed to get the minimum nine “yes” votes.
United Arab Emirates Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh, the Arab representative on the council, said its members supported the resolution, which she said will change the world’s perception that the Security Council “is indifferent.”
“This is a first, important and overdue step,” she said, stressing that it must be followed by work toward a lasting humanitarian cease-fire.
Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan issued a statement saying the resolution “is disconnected from reality and is meaningless.”
He criticized the council’s failure to condemn Hamas, claiming the militants were deliberately allowing the humanitarian situation to deteriorate so the United Nations would pressure Israel to back off of Gaza.
“It will not happen,” Erdan said. “Israel will continue to act until Hamas is destroyed and the hostages are returned.”
U.N. Security Council resolutions are legally binding, unlike General Assembly resolutions, but in practice many parties choose to ignore the council’s requests for action.
Richard Gowan, U.N. director for the International Crisis Group, said the Security Council has called for cease-fires in wars from the Balkans to Syria “with little or no impact.”
The General Assembly resolution was approved on Oct. 27 by a vote of 120-14 with 45 abstentions. Since then, Israel agreed Nov. 9 to four-hour pauses. But only limited aid has been delivered to Gaza through the Rafah crossing from Egypt, and a humanitarian catastrophe has been brewing.
Gowan said that the council was able to speak at all gives its member nations “some respite,” but would likely not have any significant impact.
“The resolution is drafted in a way that puts no real political pressure on Israel, but the U.S. will likely urge Israel to show more flexibility on aid issues to satisfy global opinion,” Gowan told The Associated Press. “The council will not move from this text to a call for a cease-fire, unless facts change significantly on the ground.”
The resolution calls for humanitarian pauses and corridors throughout the Gaza Strip for a “sufficient number of days” for unhindered access by the U.N., 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 repair of essential infrastructure and enable urgent rescue and recovery efforts.
The resolution demands that “all parties comply with their obligations under international law, notably with regard to the protection of civilians, especially children.”