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U.N. Security Council calls for expanded humanitarian aid in Gaza, as U.S. abstains

The symbol of the United Nations is displayed outside the Secretariat Building at U.N. headquarters.
John Minchillo
/
AP
The symbol of the United Nations is displayed outside the Secretariat Building at U.N. headquarters.

Updated December 22, 2023 at 3:17 PM ET

After days of protracted and slow-moving negotiations, the United Nations Security Council has approved a resolution calling for "urgent steps" to allow expanded aid into the Gaza strip, as the territory faces a spiraling humanitarian crisis from weeks of Israeli bombardment. But lacking unanimous support for an immediate pause to the fighting, the resolution stopped short of calling for a cease-fire.

The final vote on the resolution, which was drafted by the United Arab Emirates, was 13-o. The United States abstained from the vote, as did Russia.

Friday's vote had originally been scheduled for Monday, but it was repeatedly delayed to allow for negotiations over the final text of the resolution in an effort to get the U.S. — Israel's strongest ally on the international stage — to agree not to veto.

In the end, the wording approved by the Security Council was watered down compared to earlier drafts of the resolution. Previous drafts had called for a "cessation" or even a "suspension" of hostilities, which the U.S. objected to. Negotiators ultimately settled on language that called for creating "the conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities."

"We know this is not a perfect text. We know only a cease-fire will end this suffering," said Ambassador Lana Zaki Nusseibeh of the United Arab Emirates, the sponsor of the resolution, in remarks ahead of the vote. "Often in diplomacy, the challenge is meeting the moment in the world we live in, not in the world that we want," she added.

Inspecting aid into Gaza

Another sticking point in negotiations was whether the U.N. itself should inspect the trucks that are entering Gaza to deliver desperately needed aid. Israel currently inspects these convoys to make sure there are no weapons being smuggled in for Hamas.

The U.S. has been working to get Israel to accelerate the pace of these inspection, but the Biden administration has been wary of a new U.N. resolution further complicating what is already a complicated situation.

"There are still serious and widespread concerns that this Resolution as drafted could actually slow down delivery of humanitarian aid by directing the U.N. to create an unworkable monitoring mechanism," said U.S. spokesperson Nate Evans on Thursday. "We must ensure any Resolution helps and doesn't hurt the situation on the ground."

The final language of the resolution does not call for a new inspection regime. Instead, it asks the U.N. secretary general to appoint an aide coordinator for Gaza.

Aid trucks enter through the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel into the Gaza Strip on Dec. 18. The Security Council's vote on a new U.N. resolution to spur desperately needed aid to Gaza went through intense negotiations around two issues important to the U.S. — a reference to a cessation of hostilities and putting the U.N. in charge of inspecting trucks.
Hatem Ali / AP
/
AP
Aid trucks enter through the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel into the Gaza Strip on Dec. 18. The Security Council's vote on a new U.N. resolution to spur desperately needed aid to Gaza went through intense negotiations around two issues important to the U.S. — a reference to a cessation of hostilities and putting the U.N. in charge of inspecting trucks.

Friday's resolution also called for "the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages" and urged the provision of enough fuel into Gaza to meet all humanitarian needs, a long-running sticking point for Israel, which says Hamas could steal fuel for its combat effort.

Prior to Friday, the U.S. had vetoed Security Council resolutions on Israel and Gaza since the conflict began in October, most recently earlier this month, when American officials said a resolution had been rushed and ignored U.S. diplomatic efforts. The U.S. had also objected to resolutions that did not explicitly condemn Hamas.

The humanitarian situation in Gaza

In Gaza, some 85% of Gaza's population have fled their homes and crowded into shelters and tent camps in the territory's south as Israel has continued to expand its ground operation. Much of northern Gaza has been flattened or damaged by airstrikes, including hospitals, schools, places of worship and thousands of homes.

More than half of households in Gaza are experiencing "severe levels of hunger," according to a recent report by the World Food Programme. On average, Palestinians in Gaza have access to less than two liters of drinking water per day, the report found.

A growing number of international voices have expressed concern that the Israeli military is not taking enough steps to limit harm to civilians — including, increasingly, the U.S., which has sent officials to Israel this week to encourage leaders to dial back the intensity of its Gaza operation.

Criticism of Israel's ground operation has redoubled in recent days, even among Israelis, after the Israeli military admitted that its own soldiers had shot and killed three Israeli hostages in Gaza, who were shirtless and waving a makeshift white flag in an effort to be rescued.

This week, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin arrived in Israel to urge leaders there to downscale the war effort to more targeted operations that reduce wide-scale harm to civilians.

The attacks on Israel by Hamas fighters on Oct. 7 killed 1,200 people and kidnapped hundreds of others, Israel says. Israel's military says more than 130 Israeli soldiers have been killed in the ground offensive.

An estimated 129 people are still being held captive in Gaza, according to the Israeli prime minister's office. At least 20 of them are thought to be dead.

More than 20,000 Palestinians have been killed since Oct. 7, according to the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza, which does not differentiate between combatants and civilians but says the majority of those killed have been women or children.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.
Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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