U.N. Security Council adopts resolution calling for urgent humanitarian pauses and corridors in Gaza

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”

November 16, 2023 07:22 am | Updated 06:21 pm IST - UNITED NATIONS

The Security Council meets to talk about the situation in the Middle East at United Nations headquarters, Oct. 24, 2023.

The Security Council meets to talk about the situation in the Middle East at United Nations headquarters, Oct. 24, 2023. | Photo Credit: AP

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 Hamas’ surprise cross-border attacks into Israel on October 7, and Russia because of its failure to demand a humanitarian ceasefire, 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.

“What we have achieved today is an important first step,” Malta’s U.N. Ambassador Vanessa Frazier said. “We will remain steadfast in our commitment to the protection of civilians and the plight of children in armed conflict that continue to suffer in a disproportionate manner.”

No mention of Hamas attacks

The resolution doesn’t mention the October 7 attacks in Israel, where Hamas militants killed around 1,200 people and took some 240 others hostage. Nor does it mention Israel’s response with airstrikes and a ground offensive in Hamas-ruled Gaza that the territory’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 October 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 favour, the U.S. opposed, and nine abstentions. It was not adopted because it failed to get the minimum nine “yes” votes.

Mr. Nebenzia said he abstained on the resolution because of appeals from the region for council action on the dire humanitarian situation. But he called it a disgrace that the council, which has “a uniquely powerful toolbox” including sanctions and even military action, “finally squeezed out such a weak call.”

“As the old saying goes, the mountain has labored and brought forth a mouse,” the Russian ambassador said.

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said she remains “horrified” that a few council members can’t condemn Hamas’ “barbaric terrorist attack,” and criticized the resolution for not reaffirming every country’s right to self-defense. She did note that the resolution is the first ever adopted “that even mentions the word Hamas.”

Nonetheless, Ms. Thomas-Greenfield called the resolution “a step forward” and said the U.S. supports its calls for humanitarian pauses and the release of hostages.

Arab support

United Arab Emirates Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh, the Arab representative on the council, said its members supported the resolution, which is the first on the situation in the Palestinian territories since 2016.

“It is difficult geopolitical times, and to bring the unity of the council today to speak with one voice on the subject that has haunted all of us over the last month is, I think, momentous,” she said.

The resolution “is a first, important and overdue step” and will change the world’s perception that the Security Council “is indifferent,” Ms. Nusseibeh said. But the world must not lose sight of the urgent goal of a lasting humanitarian cease-fire, she said.

Meaningless, says Israel

Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan issued a statement saying the resolution “is disconnected from reality and is meaningless.”

He criticised 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,” Mr. Erdan said. “Israel will continue to act until Hamas is destroyed and the hostages are returned.”

Legally binding

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 ceasefires 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.

Mr. 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,” Mr. Gowan told AP. “The council will not move from this text to a call for a cease-fire, unless facts change significantly on the ground.”

Humanitarian pauses for a number of days

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.

It demands that “all parties comply with their obligations under international law, notably with regard to the protection of civilians, especially children.”

It also asks U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to report to the council at its next monthly Mideast meeting, on Nov. 28, on implementing the resolution.

Asked afterward about Israel's rejection of the resolution, Malta’s Frazier and the UAE’s Nusseibeh said it remains legally binding and pointed to Guterres' upcoming report. Ms. Nusseibeh said the secretary-general has been asked to bring ideas on what the U.N. would need “for further monitoring and implementation on the ground.”

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. ambassador, said the Security Council should have called for a ceasefire a long time ago, stressing that “Gaza bleeds death, devastation, destruction everywhere.” It is “a small, modest resolution,” he said.

“Israel considers all of us terrorists,” he told the council after the vote. “Israel is not under threat of destruction. It is destroying Palestine. It considers the Palestinian state as a strategic threat. It is against Palestinian rule anywhere.”

Mr. Mansour said the Palestinians will keep coming back to the Security Council and the General Assembly for action, first and foremost for a cease-fire.

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