After thousands dead…
Posted January 9, 2009on:
UN Security Council calls for Gaza cease-fire
By EDITH M. LEDERER, Associated Press Writer Edith M. Lederer, Associated Press Writer 3 mins ago
UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. Security Council approved a resolution Thursday night calling for an immediate and durable cease-fire between Hamas militants and Israeli forces in Gaza. The U.S. abstained from the 14-0 vote.
Israel and Hamas were not parties to the vote and it will now be up to them to stop the fighting. But the text of the resolution was hammered out by the United States, Israel’s chief ally, and by Arab nations that have ties to Hamas and the Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories.
“We are all very conscious that peace is made on the ground while resolutions are written in the United Nations,” British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States “fully supports” the resolution but abstained because it “thought it important to see the outcomes of the Egyptian mediation” with Israel and Hamas, aimed at achieving a cease-fire.
The Egyptian and French initiative must be “not just applauded, but supported,” she said.
In deciding that the U.S. should not block the resolution, Rice said, “the Security Council has provided a road map for a sustainable, durable peace in Gaza.”
The decision came on the 13th day of an Israeli air and ground offensive against the Islamic group Hamas which rules Gaza and has been launching rockets and mortars into southern Israel for years. It followed three days of intense negotiations between ministers from key Arab nations and the council’s veto-wielding Western powers — the U.S., Britain and France.
With Palestinian civilian casualties mounting, the Arabs were under intense pressure to get a resolution — and several diplomats said they wanted it before Friday prayers at mosques in the region.
As of Thursday, about 750 Palestinians, at least a quarter civilians, had been killed along with 13 Israelis.
The resolution expressed “grave concern” at the escalating violence and the deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza and emphasized the need to open all border crossings and achieve a lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Arab nations called for the emergency Security Council meeting to get the council to call for an immediate cease-fire.
They had been pressing their own resolution, which not only would have demanded an end to all military activity in Gaza but was revised to include mention of Hamas by name and call for an international force to prevent arms smuggling — two key U.S. demands.
But the changes in the Arab text didn’t meet all the demands of the United States and its key Western allies, Britain and France, all veto-wielding members of the council.
Those nations countered by shelving a weaker “presidential statement” they had proposed Wednesday and introducing a rival resolution written by the British.
The resolution “stresses the urgency of and calls for an immediate, durable and fully respected cease-fire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.” While the “call” is tantamount to a demand on the parties, Israel’s troops won’t be required to pull out until there is a “durable” cease-fire.
The resolution calls on U.N. member states “to intensify efforts to provide arrangements and guarantees in Gaza in order to sustain a durable cease-fire and calm, including to prevent illicit trafficking in arms and ammunition and to ensure the sustained re-opening” of border crossings.
This is a weaker statement than Israel sought, and the U.S. would have liked. There is also no mention in the resolution of an “international observer force” proposed by the Arabs — and the word “Hamas” was dropped during the negotiations.
The resolution “condemns all violence and hostilities directed against civilians,” calls for “unimpeded” humanitarian access to Gaza, and welcomes the initiative to open “humanitarian corridors.” It urges international efforts to provide humanitarian aid and rebuild Gaza’s economy.
While the resolution was not drafted under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which is militarily enforceable, the Arab League’s Moussa said it is “legally binding.”
As for implementation, he said, “we’ll get it” because following the Security Council’s unanimous approval, the council “will have to supervise the implementation.”
Shortly before the final day of U.N. negotiations began, Israeli envoys went to Cairo and held talks with Egyptian officials on an initiative by the presidents of Egypt and France that calls for a temporary truce. Hamas militants have yet to commit to coming to Cairo for talks and said they have major reservations about the plan.
In a possible sign Hamas was unwilling to compromise yet, a senior Hamas official in Syria, Mohammed Nazzal, told Syrian TV on Thursday that the group would never surrender and vowed to fight house to house against Israeli troops in Gaza.
A joint statement issued by Palestinian groups based in Syria’s capital Thursday rejected the Egyptian-French initiative, saying it would undermine Gazans’ resistance and give Israel “a free hand” to continue aggression.
Hamas is normally a member of the coalition, but it wasn’t clear if it signed the statement. Hamas officials in Syria were not available for comment.
Israel’s government said Wednesday that it viewed the Egyptian-French proposal positively but stopped short of acceptance.
The leaders of France and Germany met Thursday to discuss the crisis and urged quick action to halt the fighting. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said any time lost would play into the hands of those who want war.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel backed the Egyptian-French plan. “We must do everything we can so that this cease-fire occurs as soon as possible,” she said.
Speaking in Madrid, Spain, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the Egyptian-French initiative “a positive element” in the peace process and said that “we support it.” Abbas’ Fatah faction, which controls the West Bank, has little sway in Gaza.
The Egyptian-French initiative aims to achieve a “lasting halt” to the fighting and a pullout of Israeli troops along with a cessation of militant rocket fire into Israel and arms smuggling to Hamas, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier said.
In Washington, the Senate unanimously adopted a resolution stating an “unwavering commitment” to Israel and its right to defend itself, while also calling for “a viable and independent Palestinian state living in peace alongside a secure state of Israel.” The House was expected to pass a similar measure Friday.
Associated Press writers John Heilprin at the United Nations; Omar Sinan in Cairo, Egypt; Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria; Christine Ollivier and Jamey Keaten in Paris, and Anne Flaherty in Washington contributed to this report.