Russia and China veto US resolution on ‘immediate’ Gaza ceasefire at UN

The draft resolution declared that an ‘immediate and sustained ceasefire’ was ‘imperative’

Richard Hall,Andrew Feinberg
Friday 22 March 2024 18:56 GMT
Blinken in Israel ahead of UN vote on Gaza ceasefire plan

A US resolution on an immediate ceasefire in Gaza has been vetoed by both China and Russia at the UN Security Council as the death toll in the besieged territory reached 32,000 people.

It is the latest in a line of ceasefire resolutions to have been voted down in recent months, with the US having exercised its own veto three times. The US resolution, which had undergone several drafts before the vote, declared the “imperative” of an “immediate and sustained ceasefire,” but did not make it a legally binding demand as previous resolutions had.

It did, however, mark the first time the US had backed any UN resolution urging an immediate ceasefire.

Russia’s deputy UN ambassador Dmitry Polyansky said ahead of the vote that Moscow would not be satisfied “with anything that doesn’t call for an immediate ceasefire”.

America’s UN ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks on the resolution (AP)

China’s ambassador to the UN, Zhang Jun, offered a similar explanation for his country’s veto, describing the final text as “ambiguous”.

The vote in the 15-member Security Council was 11 members in favour and three against, including Algeria, the Arab representative on the council. There was one abstention, from Guyana. As two of the five permanent security council members, the Russian and Chinese votes counted as vetoes.

Mr Jun said the draft did “not call for an immediate ceasefire nor does it even provide an answer to the question of realising a ceasefire in the short term. This is a clear deviation from the consensus of the council members and fell far short of the expectations of the international community.”

The US has blocked three previous UN Security Council resolutions calling for an immediate ceasefire, including one last month backed by Arab states for which it was the only country on the 15-member council to issue its veto.

The UN vote came amid a flurry of diplomacy by US secretary of state Antony Blinken, who met with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday to urge Israel not to launch a ground attack on the city of Rafah and to do more to allow humanitarian aid to enter the territory.

Mr Blinken spent the days before his arrival in Israel travelling the region in an attempt to broker a new ceasefire in Gaza, meeting with Arab foreign ministers and leaders, including Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.

A US State Department spokesperson told The Independent that the UN resolution “supports the diplomatic effort to secure a ceasefire in the context of a hostage release and so would put pressure on Hamas to accept the proposal on the table”.

The draft also condemned Hamas for the 7 October attacks and reiterated “the need to do more to surge humanitarian aid into Gaza”, the spokesperson said.

French president Emmanuel Macron said following the vote that he would work on a new ceasefire resolution that would be agreeable to all permanent members.

“Following Russia’s and China’s veto a few minutes ago, we are going to resume work on the basis of the French draft resolution in the Security Council and work with our American, European and Arab partners to reach an agreement,” he said at the end of a European Union leaders’ summit in Brussels.

He noted that the US now seemed open to backing an immediate ceasefire.

“What is important to note is that the US has changed its position and has indicated its desire to now very clearly defend a ceasefire, which is a good thing for us and for the progress of our draft,” Mr Macron said.

US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said following the vote: “Russia and China simply did not want to vote for a resolution that was penned by the United States because they would rather see us fail than to see this council succeed.”

At the White House, National Security Communications Adviser John Kirby called the resolution “a balanced, timely text” that was “in line with our long standing calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza over a period of at least six weeks as part of a hostage deal”.

Echoing Ms Thomas-Greenfield’s comments about why Russia and China opposed the measure, he told reporters: “They’d rather shoot down something that we authored simply because we authored it rather than consider the strength of what it called for with overwhelming Council support”.

“It’s difficult to look at that text and find what’s objectionable about it except the fact that the United States is the one that authored it and put it forward,” he said.

Mr Kirby also sought to differentiate between China and Russia’s veto of the US-authored resolution today and the US use of its’ veto of another ceasefire resolution put forth last month, calling the US veto one that had been “based on substance”.

“Ours was based on the actual content in the resolution, which just called for immediate ceasefire, no condemnation of Hamas, no connection to getting the hostages out, nothing in there about humanitarian assistance. We support an immediate ceasefire, but as our resolution said, in connection with a hostile deal that gets those people home, gets more aid in, ... condemns Hamas for what they did on the seventh of October,” he said.

“Our objections and our vetoes were based on substance and content. The objections in the vetoes today, by Russia and China, were ... on politics — because we authored it, it had to be bad”.

The UK’s representative to the Security Council says she is “deeply disappointed” that Russia and China did not back the US draft resolution.

Dame Barbara Woodward says the UK had voted for an “an immediate and sustained ceasefire”, to free Israeli hostages, and to “urge against a ground offensive into Rafah”.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the UN, called the US resolution “one-sided”.

“We reject framing what is happening as a terrorism issue. It is a genocide against the entire population of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip,” he told reporters.

While the US-backed resolution was being vetoed at the UN, Mr Blinken sat down with Mr Netanyahu to discuss the delivery of aid into Gaza and Israel’s planned offensive in Rafah.

The visit comes at a particularly tense period for US-Israel relations, as gaps between the two historic allies have emerged over Israel’s devastating war against Hamas.

In recent weeks, the Biden administration has publicly called for Israel to rethink its plan to invade the city of Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians are sheltering after being displaced from across the territory.

Speaking as he departed Israel, Mr Blinken told reporters he had “candid conversations” with the Israeli prime minister.

He added that such an offensive in Rafah “risks killing more civilians. It risks wreaking greater havoc with the humanitarian assistance. It risks further isolating Israel around the world and jeopardising its long-term security and standing.”

Mr Netanyahu has baulked at the suggestions, however, and said following his meeting with Mr Blinken he remained committed to launching an operation in the city.

“I also said that we have no way to defeat Hamas without going into Rafah and eliminating the rest of the battalions there. And I told him that I hope we will do it with the support of the US, but if we have to, we will do it alone,” he said in a video statement to reporters.

Ahead of the meeting, Mr Blinken said he would urge Israel to allow more humanitarian aid into the territory after a United Nations report warned that widespread famine was “imminent” in northern Gaza, and a “major acceleration of death” would follow if an immediate ceasefire is not reached.

The visit marks the secretary of state’s sixth trip to the Middle East since Hamas killed some 1,200 people and took more than 200 hostage in a surprise attack on 7 October in southern Israel. Israel’s offensive in response has killed more than 32,000 people in Gaza, according to Palestinian health officials, who told The Independent there have been at least 27 reported deaths due to starvation and dehydration, including 23 children.

While the failed resolution did not come with any enforcement mechanism, it is perhaps the strongest resolution regarding Israel’s war in Gaza that the US has agreed to back.

Mr Biden last month described Israel’s conduct in the war as “over the top”, but he has not shown any willingness to leverage massive US aid to Israel to pressure its ally.

His administration has quietly approved and delivered more than 100 weapons deliveries to Israel since 7 October, the Washington Post reported, sales that were not announced publicly. The White House has also bypassed Congress twice to send hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of tank shells and ammunition.

Six months of war has caused an acute humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, which is home to more than two million people. The US has been unable to persuade Israel to allow sufficient aid deliveries into Gaza to prevent hunger from taking hold. Those disruptions led to the US launching air drops of aid into the strip, and a plan to build a temporary port on Gaza’s coast to facilitate further aid deliveries, but aid experts said those measures would be insufficient to prevent a famine.

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), whose assessments are relied on by UN agencies, said this week that nearly three-quarters of people in parts of northern Gaza were now afflicted by the most severe level of food shortage, far exceeding the 20 per cent famine threshold.

Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary general, called the IPC report an “appalling indictment” of conditions on the ground.

“This is an entirely man-made disaster and the report makes clear that it can be halted,” he told reporters at the UN headquarters in New York, calling on Israel to ensure access to humanitarian goods throughout Gaza.

Mr Blinken arrived in Israel after meeting with foreign ministers from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan on Thursday as part of his push for a new ceasefire agreement.

He said in the same interview with Saudi media outlet Al-Hadath that the “gaps are narrowing” between Israel and Hamas in their negotiations for a ceasefire, and that “an agreement is very much possible”.

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