The UN Security Council has approved a resolution calling for “humanitarian pauses and corridors” in war-torn Gaza, a long-awaited diplomatic breakthrough after weeks of bitter negotiations.
Twelve countries voted to approve the measure, with the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia abstaining.
The resolution called for “urgent and extended humanitarian pauses and corridors throughout the Gaza Strip for a sufficient number of days to enable, consistent with international humanitarian law, the full, rapid, safe, and unhindered humanitarian access for United Nations humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners.”
The International Rescue Committee has said humanitarian groups need a minimum ceasefire of five days in order to do vital work to restore basic services and necessities for Gaza’s over 2 million civilians. US President Joe Biden also said last week that he asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for “a pause for a lot more than three days.”
Gaza has been under siege since October 7, when Israel closed exit points from the Palestinian enclave, cut it off from food, water and electricity, and began an intensive campaign of airstrikes in retaliation for lethal terror attacks carried out by Palestinian militant group Hamas, which killed an estimated 1,200 people and also saw about 240 taken hostage.
The offensive in Gaza has escalated in recent weeks with expanding ground operations in Gaza’s north, from which civilians have been instructed to evacuate along approved routes in short windows.
The resolution also called for the release of “all hostages held by Hamas and other groups, especially children” and for all parties to “refrain from depriving the civilian population in the Gaza strip of basic services and humanitarian assistance.”
The resolution, drafted by Malta, had already received the backing of the UN’s 22-member Arab Group.
Lior Haiat, a spokesman for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said after the vote that “Israel calls on the Security Council and the international community to insist on the release of all Israeli hostages quickly as the resolution stipulates.”
“Israel expects the Security Council to condemn Hamas unequivocally and address the need to create a different security reality in Gaza. There is no room for prolonged humanitarian truces as long as 239 hostages are in the hands of Hamas terrorists,” he said.
Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Monsour acknowledged that the council is “finally acting,” but said that it should have called for a ceasefire. He also criticized its lack of condemnation for the deaths of civilians and humanitarian workers.
In a statement, the International Rescue Committee called the vote “an important first step.”
“It is now incumbent upon all parties to the conflict, and all UN member states to do everything in their power to help turn these words into action,” the statement continued.
Trapped in a ‘spiderweb’ of red lines
The UN, created to maintain global peace and security, remains the nerve center of frenetic attempts to create peace in the Middle East, but has run into repeated roadblocks over the past month, notably from the United States, as the death toll climbed.
Wednesday’s vote was the Security Council’s fifth attempt to pass a resolution on Israel’s war with Hamas, which controls Gaza. Two resolutions proposed by Russia failed to gain enough votes, while United States, a steadfast backer of Israel’s right to defend itself, vetoed a Brazilian resolution calling for a humanitarian pause. The US’s own call for a pause was vetoed by Russia and China.
“There is a lot of pressure on the council to react, but the council has these difficulties: It’s a body trapped at the crossings of different red lines; an insect trapped on a spider’s web and the web is composed of different red lines,” he said.
As deliberations dragged on, Israeli attacks on Gaza have killed at least 11,255 Palestinians since October 7, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah, drawing from sources in Hamas-controlled Gaza. The ministry also said that 4,630 of the dead are children.
UAE Ambassador to the UN Lana Nusseibeh, speaking ahead of the vote Wednesday, said that “protection of children” was the “North Star that has guided this council’s approach on this draft.”
“This text is also what humanitarian actors have consistently called for as the bare minimum for them to be able to do their lifesaving work. The resolution means in real time, enough time and space for search and rescue operations to save those children who are buried under the rubble,” she added.
The Health Ministry said Tuesday it was having significant difficulties obtaining updated information because of the parlous state of communications in Gaza.
Pleas from the UN’s top figures have grown pointed over the weeks. Though limited aid has been allowed to enter Gaza, the UN’s Secretary General Antonio Guterres has described it as “a trickle” and “a drop in the ocean.” The UN’s emergency relief chief Martin Griffiths on Wednesday said the “carnage” in Gaza could not be allowed to continue.
Volker Türk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, accused both Hamas and Israel of committing war crimes. “The atrocities perpetrated by Palestinian armed groups on October 7 were heinous, brutal and shocking, they were war crimes – as is the continued holding of hostages,” he said last week.
“The collective punishment by Israel of Palestinian civilians amounts also to a war crime, as does the unlawful forcible evacuation of civilians,” he added.
Israel says it tries to mitigate harm to civilians in its pursuit of Hamas, and accuses the group of hiding behind civilian infrastructure, including hospitals. Hamas denies the claim.
In a measure of global sentiment, over 120 countries last month voted for a “sustained humanitarian truce” leading to a cessation of hostilities at the United Nations General Assembly. But the vote in that body is nonbinding, unlike a mandatory Security Council vote.