UN assembly moves past Security Council to take lead on Gaza

12 Dec 2023 11:02am
A picture taken from the Palestinian city of Rafah shows smoke billowing near the Egyptian border, in the southern Gaza Strip, during an Israeli strike on December 11, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and Hamas. Photo by Said Khatib/AFP
A picture taken from the Palestinian city of Rafah shows smoke billowing near the Egyptian border, in the southern Gaza Strip, during an Israeli strike on December 11, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and Hamas. Photo by Said Khatib/AFP
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UNITED NATIONS - The UN General Assembly is due to vote Tuesday on a non-binding resolution demanding "an immediate humanitarian ceasefire" in Gaza -- a call that the paralysed Security Council has so far failed to make.

The United States, one of only five permanent members of the Security Council, used its veto on Friday to halt a draft text calling for a ceasefire, the latest sign of impasse.

The Council took more than a month after the start of the war between Israel and Hamas to speak with one weak voice, calling in mid-November after four rejected texts for humanitarian "pauses" in the conflict.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned of a looming "complete breakdown of public order" in the besieged Gaza Strip.

Many countries and human rights organisations deplored last Friday's Security Council failure, and Guterres on Sunday described the Council's authority and credibility as "undermined."

Israeli air and land attacks continue to pummel Gaza, more than two months after the unprecedented attack perpetrated by Hamas fighters on Israeli soil on Oct 7.

Some 1,200 Israelis were killed in the initial attack, while the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says 18,205 Palestinians have died in Israel's bombardment since.

The UN itself is mourning the death of more than 100 of its own aid workers since the onset of war.

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"There are those who cannot see reality as they should see it," Palestinian ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour said on Friday after the US veto.

"But eventually they will cave in under the massive pressure of humanity from one corner of the globe to the other corner."

- 'Catastrophic' -

In order to build pressure, Arab countries called for the new special session of the General Assembly for Tuesday afternoon, just after a visit to the Rafah border point by more than a dozen Security Council ambassadors.

The draft text, seen by AFP, largely reproduces the resolution blocked in the Council on Friday by the United States.

Expressing concern at the "catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip," it "demands an immediate humanitarian ceasefire," calls for the protection of civilians, humanitarian access, and the "immediate and unconditional" release of all hostages.

But like the text adopted by the Assembly at the end of October -- which called for an "immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities" -- it does not condemn Hamas, an absence systematically criticised by Israel and the United States.

The previous resolution received 120 votes in favour, 14 against (including Israel and the United States) and 45 abstentions.

With calls for a ceasefire multiplying, "it is safe to assume that the majority will be greater" this time, Richard Gowan of the International Crisis Group told AFP.

This may bring the Assembly closer to the 140 or so countries (out of 193 member states) that have repeatedly denounced the invasion of Ukraine, a result that the United States had seen as proof of Russia's isolation.

But even with overwhelming support for a non-binding text, "nobody imagines that the General Assembly can persuade Israel to cease fire, just as it cannot order Putin to quit Ukraine. The goal is to make the US increasingly nervous," Gowan said.

Although the Security Council is "at the heart of our work in peace and security," said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the secretary-general, messages from the General Assembly "are also very important." - AFP

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