Thursday, January 8, 2009

Security Council overwhelmingly calls for immediate Gaza ceasefire

8 January 2009 –The United Nations Security Council tonight overwhelmingly called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza leading to a full Israeli withdrawal, the unimpeded provision throughout Gaza of food, fuel and medical treatment, and intensified international arrangements to prevent arms and ammunition smuggling.

Fourteen of the Council’s 15 members voted in favour, with only the United States abstaining.

The resolution, presented by the United Kingdom and adopted as Israel’s offensive moved into its 14th day, emphasized that Palestinian and Israeli civilian populations must be protected, voiced grave concern at the heavy civilian casualties and the deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and condemned all violence and hostilities directed against civilians and all acts of terrorism.

The Israeli operation has so far killed 758 people in Gaza, of whom 257 were children and 56 women, with 3,100 wounded, 1,080 of them children and 452 women, according to Palestinian reports cited as credible by UN officials.

The resolution called for renewed efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace with two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace with secure and recognized borders. The West Bank-based Palestine Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas accepts the two-state solution, while Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in 2007, does not recognize Israel’s right to exist. The resolution “encourages tangible steps towards intra-Palestinian reconciliation.”

The 15-member Council welcomed Egyptian and other efforts under way to end the current crisis, which began on 27 December with Israeli air strikes launched with the stated aim of ending Hamas rocket attacks.

Addressing the Council after the vote, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “heartened and relieved… Your decision signals the will of the international community. It must be fully respected by all parties to this conflict.” He added that it would open the way for the UN to resume urgently the delivery of humanitarian aid, food and medical supplies.

Explaining her abstention, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the US wanted to see the outcome of the Egyptian initiative first, but allowed the resolution to go forward because it was a step in the right direction. A negative vote by the US, one of the Council’s permanent members with veto powers, would have killed the measure.

Stressing the urgency of “an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire,” and calling for “the unimpeded provision and distribution throughout Gaza of humanitarian assistance,” it called on UN Member States to support international efforts to alleviate the humanitarian and economic situation in Gaza, including through additional contributions to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

It also called on Member States “to intensify efforts to provide arrangements and guarantees in Gaza in order to sustain a durable ceasefire and calm, including to prevent illicit trafficking in arms and ammunition and to ensure the sustained re-opening of crossing points.” Israel has accused Hamas of smuggling more advanced rockets and weapons and has closed crossings into Gaza in response to Hamas rocket fire.

Adoption of the resolution came as diplomatic efforts to secure an end to the fighting moved into higher gear with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calling senior officials in the region. He telephoned Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal this morning and was trying to reach Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

“The Secretary-General continues his around-the-clock efforts with world leaders to achieve an immediate ceasefire,” spokesperson Michele Montas told reporters, noting that yesterday he held meetings with the United States Secretary of State, and the Foreign Ministers of the United Kingdom, Egypt, France, Jordan, Norway and Saudi Arabia.

General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto had earlier chided the lack of action by the Security Council. “I can’t stand the smell of formaldehyde,” he told a news briefing at Headquarters. “Rigor mortis seems to have taken over, and we are failing the world, we are failing the cause of peace,” he added, referring to “the dysfunctionality” of the Council.

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