US Vetoes UN Resolution Backed by Many Nations Demanding Immediate Humanitarian Cease-Fire in Gaza

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Foreign Ministers attend a news conference about the Israel-Hamas war
Reporters raise their hands to ask questions as Foreign Ministers attend a news conference about the Israel-Hamas war, and pressure to reduce civilian casualties, Friday, Dec. 8, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

UNITED NATIONS — The United States vetoed a United Nations resolution Friday backed by almost all other Security Council members and dozens of other nations demanding an immediate humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza. Supporters called it a terrible day and warned of more civilian deaths and destruction as the war goes into its third month.

The vote in the 15-member council was 13-1, with the United Kingdom abstaining. The United States' isolated stand reflects a growing fracture between Washington and some of its closest allies over Israel's increasingly deadly bombardment of Gaza. France and Japan were among those supporting the resolution.

In a vain effort to press the Biden administration to drop its opposition to calling for a halt to the fighting, the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey were all in Washington on Friday. But their meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken took place only after the U.N. vote.

The vote also shifted responsibility more squarely onto the United States for protecting Israel from growing demands to stop the airstrikes that are killing thousands of Palestinian civilians.

"What is the message we are sending Palestinians if we cannot unite behind a call to halt the relentless bombardment of Gaza?” United Arab Emirates deputy ambassador Mohamed Abushaha asked after the vote. “Indeed, what is the message we are sending civilians across the world who may find themselves in similar situations?”

U.S. deputy ambassador Robert Wood criticized the council after the vote for its failure to condemn Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel in which the militants killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, or to acknowledge Israel’s right to defend itself. He declared that halting military action would allow Hamas to continue to rule Gaza and “only plant the seeds for the next war.”

“Hamas has no desire to see a durable peace, to see a two-state solution,” Wood said before the vote. “For that reason, while the United States strongly supports a durable peace, in which both Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace and security, we do not support calls for an immediate cease-fire.”

Israel’s military campaign has killed more than 17,400 people in Gaza — 70% of them women and children — and wounded more than 46,000, according to the Palestinian territory’s Health Ministry, which says many others are trapped under rubble. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths.

Abushahab, the UAE diplomat, said before the vote that the resolution, which his country sponsored, had garnered nearly 100 co-sponsors in less than 24 hours, a reflection of global support for efforts to end the war and save Palestinian lives.

After the vote, he expressed deep disappointment at the U.S. veto and warned that the Security Council is growing isolated and “appears untethered” from its mandate to ensure international peace and security.

Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador Dmitry Polyansky called the vote “one of the darkest days in the history of the Middle East" and accused the United States of issuing “a death sentence to thousands, if not tens of thousands more civilians in Palestine and Israel, including women and children.”

He said “history will judge Washington’s actions” in the face of what he called a “merciless Israeli bloodbath.”

The council called the emergency meeting to hear from Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who for the first time invoked Article 99 of the U.N. Charter, which enables a U.N. chief to raise threats he sees to international peace and security. He warned of an “humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza and urged the council to demand a humanitarian cease-fire.

Guterres said he raised Article 99 — which hadn’t been used at the U.N. since 1971 — because “there is a high risk of the total collapse of the humanitarian support system in Gaza.” The U.N. anticipates this would result in “a complete breakdown of public order and increased pressure for mass displacement into Egypt,” he warned.

Gaza is at “a breaking point,” he said, and desperate people are at serious risk of starvation.

Guterres said Hamas’ brutality against Israelis on Oct. 7 “can never justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”

“While indiscriminate rocket fire by Hamas into Israel, and the use of civilians as human shields, are in contravention of the laws of war, such conduct does not absolve Israel of its own violations,” he stressed.

The U.N. chief detailed the “humanitarian nightmare” Gaza is facing, citing intense, widespread and ongoing Israeli attacks from air, land and sea that reportedly have hit 339 education facilities, 26 hospitals, 56 health care facilities, 88 mosques and three churches.

Over 60% of Gaza’s housing has reportedly been destroyed or damaged, some 85% of the population has been forced from their homes, the health system is collapsing, and “nowhere in Gaza is safe,” Guterres said.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. ambassador, told the council that Israel’s objective is “the ethnic cleansing of the Gaza Strip” and “the dispossession and forcible displacement of the Palestinian people.”

“If you are against the destruction and displacement of the Palestinian people, you have to be in favor of an immediate cease-fire,” Mansour said. "When you refuse to call for a cease-fire, you are refusing to call for the only thing that can put an end to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.”

Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan stressed that regional stability and the security of Israelis and Gazans “can only be achieved once Hamas is eliminated — not one minute before.”

“So the true path to ensure peace is only through supporting Israel’s mission — absolutely not to call for a cease-fire,” he told the council. “Israel committed itself to the elimination of Hamas’ capabilities for the sole reason of ensuring that such horrors could never be repeated again. And if Hamas is not destroyed, such horrors will be repeated.”

In Washington, Jordan’s top diplomat told reporters that the killings of Palestinian civilians in Israel’s bombardment and siege of Gaza were war crimes and threatened to destabilize the region, the U.S. and the world for years to come.

“If people are not seeing it here, we are seeing it,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said, adding: “We’re seeing the challenges that we are are facing talking to our people. They are all saying we’re doing nothing. Because despite all our efforts, Israel is continuing these massacres.”

Safadi said Arab nations would not help U.S. efforts to plan for the post-war as long as the fighting persisted, but the Arab diplomats made no mention of upping economic or diplomatic pressure on Israel and the United States to force the matter.

Asked what his pitch was to the Americans in pushing for a cease-fire, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan responded: “Our pitch would be that innocent people are dying. Innocent children are dying.”

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Associated Press writers Ellen Knickmeyer and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed.

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