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International Community Overwhelmingly Demands Gaza Cease-fire

Palestinians look for survivors of the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip in Rafah on Dec. 12, 2023.
Palestinians look for survivors of the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip in Rafah on Dec. 12, 2023.

The U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to demand an immediate humanitarian cease-fire between Hamas and Israel and the unconditional release of hostages held by the terror group and its allies.

On a vote of 153 nations in favor and 10 against, the assembly approved a resolution demanding “an immediate humanitarian cease-fire,” as well as the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages and assurances of aid access to Gaza.

“Today was an historic day in terms of the powerful message that was sent from the General Assembly,” an elated Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian envoy, told reporters. “And it is our collective duty to continue on this path until we see an end to this aggression against our people, to see this war stopping against our people. It is our duty to save lives.”

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More than 100 countries co-sponsored the text, which was drafted by a group of Arab and Muslim countries and was essentially identical to the one the United States vetoed Friday in the powerful 15-nation Security Council.

Washington tried to get an amendment included in the assembly’s text that rejected Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attack and the taking of hostages. It was voted down. So was another amendment proposed by Austria that wanted “held by Hamas and other groups” included before the word “hostages.”

The U.S. and Austria were among the 10 nations that voted against the draft resolution. Israel, Czechia, Guatemala, Liberia, Micronesia, Nauru, Papua New Guinea and Paraguay rounded out the group.

“No piece of paper, especially one that is adopted by a biased, politicized majority, will prevent Israel from defending itself against those that seek our destruction,” Israel’s U.N. ambassador Gilad Erdan told the meeting. “Israel is fighting a war for her future!”

In October, the General Assembly adopted another resolution calling for a humanitarian truce and aid access to Gaza. It received 121 votes in favor and 14 against.

International support has grown significantly for a cease-fire, as the death toll for Palestinians has climbed to more than 18,000 people, mostly women and children, in just over two months of fighting. Nearly 2 million displaced Palestinians are living in deplorable conditions.

Pro Palestine protesters demonstrate outside UN headquarters prior to a vote at the General Assembly in New York City on Dec. 12, 2023.
Pro Palestine protesters demonstrate outside UN headquarters prior to a vote at the General Assembly in New York City on Dec. 12, 2023.

About a hundred protesters calling for a cease-fire gathered outside the United Nations during the meeting, including Orthodox Jews and people with Palestinian flags.

Following Hamas’ terror attack inside Israel in which some 1,200 people were killed and 240 abducted to Gaza as hostages, and Israel’s ensuing war on Hamas’ territory in the Gaza Strip, the U.N. Security Council has failed to take decisive action to stop the bloodshed, leaving the General Assembly to step in.

Israel, US largely alone

Israel has rejected growing international criticism for how it is prosecuting its war and said a cease-fire would only benefit terrorists.

“A cease-fire means one thing and one thing only: ensuring the survival of Hamas,” Erdan said.

The United States, which has stood firmly by its ally, has expressed reservations about the growing Palestinian death toll and humanitarian crisis.

“We have made it clear to the Israelis, and they are aware that … the safety of innocent Palestinians is still a great concern," President Joe Biden said at a press conference Tuesday during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit to the White House.

“And so, the actions they're taking must be consistent with attempting to do everything possible to prevent innocent Palestinian civilians from being hurt, murdered, killed, lost, etc.”

Speaking in front of Democratic campaign donors for his 2024 reelection bid earlier Tuesday, Biden said Israel is starting to lose support around the world.

“He’s [Netanyahu] a good friend, but I think he has to change. … This government in Israel is making it very difficult for him to move,” Biden told campaign donors at an off-camera fundraiser, according to a White House transcript.

At the United Nations, U.S. envoy Linda Thomas-Greenfield said how Israel defends itself matters.

“Israel must avoid mass displacement of civilians in the south of Gaza,” she said. “It must ensure sufficient humanitarian assistance to those who have fled violence. And it must allow civilians in Gaza to return home as soon as conditions allow. We will continue to press, at the highest levels, for this, and for the protection of civilians as Israel pursues legitimate military objectives.”

Mansour said he hoped Washington would recognize the rising voices from the global street calling for a cease-fire and use its influence very soon to persuade Israel to stop its war.

“I don’t think that the U.S. administration is capable of continuing to ignore this massive power, and it was culminated in the General Assembly resolution this afternoon,” he told reporters.

A growing frustration with the United States was evident among several countries, with many talking about “double standards” and indirectly referring to Washington.

“We cannot proclaim the importance of international law and the importance of the U.N. Charter in some situations and not in others, as if the rule of law only applies to a select few,” said South African Ambassador Mathu Joyini, whose country supported the resolution. “For international law and our moral obligations to be credible, it should be uniformly applied and not be selective.”

Pakistan’s envoy decried U.S. and Austrian efforts to amend the text to blame Hamas, saying that would be one-sided, considering the mass deaths of Palestinian civilians.

“Is this any form of legitimate self-defense when you can kill 18,000 civilians with impunity and enjoy the protection in the Security Council against the action?” Munir Akram asked, implicitly pointing to the United States as Israel’s protector in the council.

Egypt’s envoy said some countries call for stopping wars and aggression and attacks on civilians and for respecting international law, but only in specific cases.

“However, and unfortunately and shamelessly, they turn their back to these calls in other situations,” said Ambassador Osama Abdelkhalek. “Especially when they are related to Palestinians and their right to live in security on their territory, their independent state, to stop the war crimes against Palestinians.”

The General Assembly’s resolutions are not legally binding like the Security Council’s. Tuesday’s move will add to the international pressure on Israel and the U.S., but it is unlikely to dramatically de-escalate the situation.

VOA’s White House bureau chief Patsy Widakuswara contributed to this report.