US vetoes UN resolution condemning all violence against civilians in Israel-Hamas war

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Copyright The Associated Press 2023

Palestinian U.N. ambassador Riyad Mansour, background right, addresses members of the U.N. Security Council at United Nations headquarters Monday, Oct. 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

TANZANIA – The U.S. vetoed a U.N. resolution Wednesday to condemn all violence against civilians in the Israel-Hamas war and to urge humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza, saying it was too early to craft an appropriate Security Council response to the crisis.

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the council needs to allow current diplomatic efforts, including by President Joe Biden, to unfold and to find out more facts on the ground first. She also criticized the measure for failing to underline Israel’s right to self-defense.

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The resolution sponsored by Brazil had wide support and would have condemned all violence against civilians, including “the heinous terrorists attacks by Hamas” against Israel. The vote in the 15-member Security Council was 12 votes in favor and the U.S. against, with Russia and Britain abstaining.

Thomas-Greenfield said that Biden was in the region engaging in diplomacy hoping to protect civilians, secure the release of hostage and prevent the conflict from spreading. “We need to let that diplomacy play out,” she said.

She said the Security Council must speak out, but should be “informed by facts on the ground and support direct diplomacy efforts that can save lives -- the council needs to get this right.”

The American ambassador criticized the resolution for not saying anything about Israel’s right to self-defense following Hamas’ surprise Oct. 7 attacks that killed more than 1,400 people in Israel. Since then, the Gaza Health Ministry says nearly 3,500 people have been killed in Gaza and more than 12,000 wounded.

Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward also criticized the resolution’s failure to mention Israel’s right to self-defense.

Brazil, the current council president, plus France, China, the United Arab Emirates and several other council members expressed regret and disappointment at the U.S. veto.

The voting and debate followed Tuesday’s huge explosion and fire at a Gaza City hospital packed with patients, relatives and Palestinians seeking shelter, in which the hospital said hundreds of people died. Hamas said it was from an Israeli airstrike, while Israel blamed a misfired rocket by the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad. Islamic Jihad denied any involvement.

Council members rejected two proposed Russian amendments to the resolution, which failed to get the minimum nine “yes” votes. One called for a “humanitarian cease-fire” and the other would condemn indiscriminate attacks on civilians and “civilian objects” in Gaza, which include hospitals and schools.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the Brazil resolution, which called for “humanitarian pauses” to deliver aid, wouldn’t have helped to avoid Tuesday’s explosion at the Gaza hospital. “It is only a cease-fire that will help to do this," he said.

He told council members who abstained or opposed the Russian amendments – the U.S. voted against both – that they will have to “bear responsibility” for what happens now to people in their own countries, the region, “and the people who are living under this deadly threat.”

Nebenzia accused the United States of “hypocrisy” and “double standards,” saying the Americans didn’t want a solution in the Security Council.

Brazil’s U.N. Ambassador Sérgio França Danese called the defeated resolution “robust and balanced.” stressing that it also called for the immediate release of all hostages, protection of civilians in Gaza from forced relocation, and “the ethical necessity” to provide them with food, fuel, water and medicine.

“Sadly, very sadly, the council was yet again unable to adopt a resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said. “Council paralysis in the face of a humanitarian catastrophe is not in the interest of the international community."

The U.S. will have to explain its veto to the 193-member General Assembly within 10 working days under a resolution its members adopted in April 2022. Supporters of the defeated Brazil draft could go to the assembly, where there are no vetoes, to win approval for a resolution on the Israeli-Hamas war. But unlike Security Council resolutions, which are legally binding, assembly resolutions are not.

Immediately after Tuesday's votes and speeches, the council started an emergency meeting —called for by Russia, the United Arab Emirates and China — to discuss the Gaza hospital blast.

The council's actions took place amid frantic diplomatic efforts to prevent the Israeli-Hamas conflict from spreading, including Biden’s lightning trip to Israel where he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths noted in a video briefing from Doha, Quatar, that Tuesday's massive explosion deprived Gaza of a hospital that cared for more than 45,000 patients a year.

After the hospital blast, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas backed out of a meeting with Biden, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and King Abdullah II of Jordan, leading the Jordanians to cancel the meeting,

The 22-member Arab Group at the United Nations expressed “outrage” at the hospital deaths and called for an immediate cease-fire to avoid further Palestinian casualties and the opening of a corridor to safely deliver aid to millions in Gaza.

Egypt’s U.N. ambassador, Osama Mahmoud, told reporters that a summit will take place Saturday in Cairo as scheduled with regional leaders and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. The five permanent Security Council nations are also invited, he said.

Mahmoud said the summit will address the humanitarian crisis sparked by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, how to achieve a cease-fire, and whether “any serious attempt to have a political horizon” exists to tackle the issues blocking an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

U.N. Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland told the emergency council meeting, “I fear that we are at the brink of a deep and dangerous abyss that could change the trajectory of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, if not of the Middle East as a whole.”

After a century of conflict and half a century of Israeli occupation, he said the international community has “failed collectively” to help Israel and the Palestinians reach a political settlement. And he warned that events following the Hamas attacks “have served to re-ignite grievances and re-animate alliances across the region.”

Wennesland said the immediate objectives must be unrestricted humanitarian access to Gaza and freeing the hostages followed by collective action to end the hostilities and prevent an expansion of the conflict. Beyond that, he said, there must be an international effort to find “a political horizon” to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — not “a patchwork” of “temporary fixes.”

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