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UN Security Council calls for ‘urgent and extended’ humanitarian pauses for aid to reach Gaza

The resolution, adopted after four frustrated attempts and with the abstention of Russia, the US and the United Kingdom, focuses on the protection of children

María Antonia Sánchez-Vallejo
Zhang Jun, embajador de China, país que preside este mes el Consejo, interviene en la reunión, este miércoles en Nueva York.
Zhang Jun, ambassador of China, speaks at the U.N. Security Council meeting Wednesday in New York.SARAH YENESEL (EFE)

After 40 days of war, and after four failed attempts to pass a resolution, the United Nations Security Council reached an agreement on Wednesday to call for “urgent and extended humanitarian pauses” in hostilities between Israel and Hamas, and “for a sufficient number of days” to allow access to the Strip for aid to be delivered. This is the first binding resolution by the Security Council, following the resolution adopted by a majority in the General Assembly on October 27, albeit of a lower grade, but with a moral and political dimension. The resolution adopted on Wednesday, which was presented by Malta, also calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all Hamas hostages, which the text highlights is prohibited under international law, and stresses the need to “protect children as persons not taking part in hostilities, and as particularly vulnerable persons.”

The 15 members of the Security Council thus succeeded in breaking a deadlock marked by four unsuccessful attempts to take action due to the inherent veto power of the five permanent members. On previous occasions it was the U.S. that blocked action by opposing a draft resolution presented by Brazil, which also called for humanitarian pauses; then it was China and Russia blocking a U.S. initiative. But this time the text has passed thanks to the abstention of Washington, Russia, and the United Kingdom. The initiative of the Security Council comes days after Israel agreed to allow U.S.-sponsored four-hour humanitarian pauses. The two countries however are adamantly opposed to a ceasefire for fear it could be used by Hamas to rearm or reorganize.

“The affirmative vote came after four unsuccessful attempts to take action last month,” the official statement acknowledged. Despite the majority garnered by the Maltese proposal, Resolution 2712, adopted at the Council’s 9479th meeting, has been the target of Israeli criticism. Israel’s deputy permanent representative, Brett Jonathan Miller, was the last to take the floor before the vote and denounced “how far removed from the reality on the ground” the resolution is, adding that it “falls on deaf ears when it comes to Hamas and other terrorist organizations.” Miller noted that the council has met a dozen times in the six weeks since Hamas’ “barbaric invasion” of Israel, which it has yet to condemn as the world’s foremost body for peace and security.

“The resolution focuses solely on the humanitarian situation in Gaza. It makes no mention of what led up to this moment,” the Israeli diplomat said. “The resolution makes it seem as if what we are witnessing in Gaza happened of its own accord.” Since Israel’s top priority is the safe return of the hostages, Miller stressed: “And seeing as Security Council resolutions hold no sway with terrorists, Israel will continue to do whatever it takes to accomplish this goal.” The deputy permanent representative also stated that the war would end with immediate effect “should Hamas choose to lay down their arms, turn themselves in and hand over the hostages unscathed.”

Riyad Mansour, permanent Observer of the observer state of Palestine, also welcomed the council’s resolution with skepticism, stating it had arrived too late and that in his opinion, the U.N.’s highest executive body should have called for a ceasefire and made it clear that there is no military solution. The Security Council “should have heeded the call by the U.N. and every humanitarian organization on Earth calling for a humanitarian ceasefire,” Mansour said. “It should have at least echoed the call of the General Assembly for an immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities.”

Chinese Ambassador Zhang Jun — Beijing holds the Security Council presidency this month — also acknowledged that there should have been a much earlier agreement and a stronger resolution. “The key rests on the implementation of the resolution and its provisions to the letter,” Zhang stated.

Vasili Nebenzia, Russia’s ambassador to the U.N., stressed that no humanitarian pause can be considered a substitute for a ceasefire or a truce, and lamented that the resolution had been watered down under pressure from Washington. “It’s a disgrace that the council has squeezed out such a weak call,” Nebenzia said. Permanent Representative of the UK Barbara Woodward said the resolution “will save lives” but explained Britain’s abstention on the basis that it does not condemn the Hamas attacks of October 7. Her U.S. colleague, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, expressed herself in the same terms, explaining that Washington could not vote to endorse a text that neither condemned Hamas nor reaffirmed the right of all U.N. Member States to protect their citizens from terrorist attacks, in reference to the White House’s unconditional support for Israel’s right to defend itself.

In addition to demanding the immediate release of hostages held by Hamas, the resolution called for humanitarian corridors to be set up throughout the Gaza strip to “save and protect civilian lives.” The exact naming of these humanitarian corridors — referred to as “pauses” in some previous draft resolutions such as the one vetoed by the U.S. — has had the council engaged in a Byzantine dialogue for six weeks. Although the terms (and concepts) “ceasefire” and “truce” are still taboo for Israel, the U.S. and the UK, the commitment to the immediate adoption of “urgent and extended humanitarian pauses and corridors” to allow aid into Gaza is a first step, although insufficient for most Security Council members and, above all, for the civilian population in the Strip.

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