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US Vetoes UN Chief's Appeal for Gaza Cease-Fire

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a U.N. Security Council meeting addressing the humanitarian crisis in the midst of conflict between Israel and Hamas, at U.N. headquarters, Dec. 8, 2023.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a U.N. Security Council meeting addressing the humanitarian crisis in the midst of conflict between Israel and Hamas, at U.N. headquarters, Dec. 8, 2023.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council Friday that two months into Israel’s war with Hamas “we are at a breaking point,” and urged them to push for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire, but the United States used its veto to prevent the council from demanding one.

“The people of Gaza are looking into the abyss,” Guterres said. “The international community must do everything possible to end their ordeal.”

The war was triggered by Hamas’ October 7 terror attack in Israel that killed 1,200 people. Palestinians living in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip are living in increasingly dire conditions. More than 17,000 people, mostly women and children, have been killed according to Gaza’s health ministry. Thousands more are injured or missing under the rubble.

UN Secretary-General Urges Cease-Fire in Gaza
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The 15-nation Security Council met Friday morning after Guterres wrote to them Wednesday invoking Article 99 of the U.N. Charter, which empowers him to bring to the council any matter he believes may threaten international peace and security.

It is the first time Guterres has invoked the clause in his nearly seven-year-long, crisis-plagued tenure. The last time it was directly invoked was in 1971, during fighting that led to the creation of Bangladesh and its separation from Pakistan.

While the Security Council has been discussing the Gaza conflict, internal divisions have largely prevented it from taking any meaningful action. Guterres’ invocation of Article 99 is a way for him to press for the need for immediate action.

Israel’s envoy questioned why, when there are so many conflicts in the world, including in Ukraine, Yemen and Syria — where chemical weapons were used — that Article 99 was not invoked until now.

“Despite the immense global impact of other conflicts and far more pressing threats to international peace and security, Israel’s defensive war against Hamas, a designated terrorist organization, was the catalyst for activating Article 99,” Ambassador Gilad Erdan said.

He said calls for a cease-fire were misguided and should be directed at Hamas’ leadership, not Israel’s.

The Security Council reconvened later Friday to vote on a draft resolution circulated by the United Arab Emirates on behalf of a group of Arab and Muslim nations. Nearly a hundred U.N. member states co-sponsored the short text. It called for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire, the release of all hostages and humanitarian access.

The Palestinian envoy made an impassioned appeal to council members to support it.

“There is no role more important for this council than to save civilian lives — 2.3 million Palestinians are fighting for their lives as we speak every single day,” Ambassador Riyad Mansour said. “Save them! Tell them! Show them help is on the way!”

US veto

But the United States used its veto to block the measure. Britain abstained. The council’s other 13 members supported the text, but it failed due to the U.S. veto.

Hamas condemned the U.S. veto against the draft resolution, describing it as unethical and inhumane.

The United States, Israel’s closest ally, has been clear in saying it does not think the time is right for a cease-fire.

“Perhaps most unrealistically, this resolution retains a call for an unconditional cease-fire,” said Deputy U.S. Ambassador Robert Wood. “I explained in my remarks this morning why this is not only unrealistic but dangerous: It would simply leave Hamas in place, able to regroup and repeat what it did on October 7.”

He said Washington strongly supports a durable peace in which both Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace and security, not a cease-fire that would “only plant the seeds for the next war.”

The Biden administration has said it would support extended pauses, like the seven-day pause in November that allowed for the release of more than 100 hostages held by Hamas and some 300 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. The United States and Israel blame Hamas’ refusal to release young women civilian hostages for the breakdown in that pause.

British Ambassador Barbara Woodward called the suffering of Palestinians “terrible and heart-wrenching” and said more and longer pauses are necessary to get aid in and hostages released.

“But we cannot vote in favor of a resolution which does not condemn the atrocities Hamas committed against innocent Israeli civilians on the 7th of October,” she said. “Calling for a cease-fire ignores the fact that Hamas has committed acts of terror and is still holding civilians hostage.”

UAE Deputy Ambassador Mohamed Abushahab said it was regrettable that in the face of untold misery, the council was unable to demand a humanitarian cease-fire.

“Let me be clear: Against the backdrop of the secretary-general’s grave warnings, the appeals by humanitarian actors, the world’s public opinion – this council grows isolated,” he said.

Palestinian envoy Mansour said the council’s failure to demand a cease-fire would have dangerous consequences.

“Hundreds of people will be killed by this time tomorrow. Then hundreds more. And then thousands,” Mansour said. “Children will be killed. Orphaned. Wounded. Disabled for life.”

Israel’s envoy thanked the United States for its support and said a cease-fire would only be possible with the return of all the hostages and the destruction of Hamas.

Aid organizations and human rights groups criticized Washington.

“The U.S. administration standing alone to veto a cease-fire, puts another nail in the coffin for U.S. credibility on matters of human rights,” said Abby Maxman, Oxfam America's president and CEO.

“Once again the U.S. used its veto to prevent the Security Council from making some of the calls the U.S. itself has been demanding of Israel and Palestinian armed groups, including compliance with international humanitarian law, protection of civilians, and releasing all civilians held hostage,” said Louis Charbonneau, U.N. director at Human Rights Watch.

“By continuing to provide Israel with weapons and diplomatic cover as it commits atrocities, including collectively punishing the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza, the U.S. risks complicity in war crimes," he warned.