March 5, 2024

The United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution on Wednesday calling for immediate and urgent dayslong humanitarian pauses in the Israel-Hamas war to allow desperately needed aid to reach civilians in Gaza.

The resolution put forth by Malta passed after weeks of division and inaction over the Israel-Gaza war. It stopped short of calling for a cease-fire, and it did not spell out the number of days for a humanitarian pause, instead calling for “a sufficient number of days” for “the full, rapid, safe, and unhindered humanitarian access.”

The resolution is legally binding and called for all parties to comply with international laws of conflict that demand that civilians, especially children, be protected. It also called for the immediate and unconditional release of hostages held by Hamas.

The resolution passed with twelve votes, with the remaining three members — the United States, Britain and Russia — abstaining.

Four previous resolutions had failed. Diplomats said that Malta’s resolution was a compromise intended to achieve consensus on language focused tightly on humanitarian issues with an emphasis on the plight of children.

Before Wednesday’s vote, Russia asked for an amendment to the resolution that would demand a cease-fire. The majority of Security Council member states, voted for a resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire on Oct 26. The proposal was not adopted because it did not get the required nine votes. The U.S. was the lone member that voted against a cease-fire.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said that the passing of the resolution on Wednesday showed that the Council could still work together. She said the United States could not vote for a resolution that did not condemn Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel and state that countries have the right to defend themselves. But she said the United States supported many of the resolution’s provisions such as the release of hostages and humanitarian pauses.

“Much more aid is urgently needed. The current levels are woefully insufficient,” Ms. Thomas-Greenfield said. “We are hopeful that humanitarian pauses will help the U.N. and humanitarian partners deliver aid and enable the safe passage of civilians fleeing violence.”

The Council has held emergency meetings every week since the Oct. 7 attack but has not taken concrete action. Four previous resolutions on the war did not pass because of divisions among the five members with veto power.

The United States vetoed a resolution, put forth by Brazil, calling for humanitarian aid and access because it did not say that Israel has a right to defend itself. Russia and China vetoed a U.S. resolution because it did not call for a cease-fire. Russia’s two resolutions did not gain the nine votes needed to pass.

In the resolution that passed Wednesday, neither the United States nor Russia got the language they wanted. Responding to pressure for the Council to act they both abstained rather than veto the resolution.

“Humanitarian pauses cannot be a replacement for a cease-fire or even a truce,” Russia’s ambassador to the U.N., Vasily Nebenzya, said. He criticized the resolution as weak and hollow because after a pause, “Military operation will be renewed with greater force,” with more victims and destruction.

As the war engulfed hospitals, patients and displaced people, the Council was accused of being indifferent to the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. The Israeli military’s raid on Tuesday of Al-Shifa hospital, Gaza’s largest medical facility, drew condemnation from senior U.N. officials and diplomats, and calls for the Council to act.

Before the Council’s vote on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi of Jordan called the Security Council’s silence — as incubators for babies went without power in Gaza — “barbarism” in a post on the platform X. “We condemn the silence on this brutality. It is providing cover for war crimes. It is unacceptable, unjustifiable. The Council must act.”

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