UN passes Gaza cease-fire resolution

Both sides urged to stop violence, but IDF won't be required to pull out until there is a "durable" truce.

survey_gaza_world_pressure (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
With a surprise US abstention, the UN Security Council overcame intense divisions and overwhelmingly approved a resolution Thursday night urging an immediate and durable Gaza cease-fire. The 14-0 vote followed three days of intense negotiations between ministers from key Arab nations and the council's veto-wielding Western powers - the United States, Britain and France. The United States and Arab nations negotiated the text of the resolution. But it will be up to Israel and Hamas to decide to stop their military activities. In Israel on Friday morning, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni were meeting to decide whether to heed the UN's call. The Security Cabinet was due to meet later. Meanwhile, on the ground, fighting continued. Five IDF soldiers were lightly wounded in overnight fighting and at least eight Palestinians were reported killed, including the deputy head of the Hamas police force in Gaza. A Hamas official issued a statement to its fighters, stressing that the confrontation was not yet over. Over 20 rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel early Friday, wounding one person in the Eshkol region. Following the UN vote, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said, "We are all very conscious that peace is made on the ground while resolutions are written in the United Nations. "Our job here is to support the efforts for peace on the ground and to help turn the good words on paper into changes on the ground that are desperately needed." US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States "fully supports" the goals, text and objectives of the resolution. But the US abstained because it "thought it important to see the outcomes of the Egyptian mediation" with Israel and Hamas, aimed at achieving a cease-fire, "in order to see what this resolution might have been supporting." "I believe that it is those efforts that will ultimately help to lead to a durable cease-fire ... but to a sustainable peace in Gaza, and we must all support the Egyptian efforts," Rice said. She added that the US decision not to block the resolution has provided the Security Council with "a road map for a sustainable, durable peace in Gaza." Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad Malki told reporters he had expected all 15 council members to vote in favor of the resolution and was "not happy." The Palestinians are very concerned that Israel will delay implementation of the cease-fire for several days and "continue and expand its attack to new targets," he said. "Israel ... must immediately implement this resolution," Malki said. "Aggression must cease so that we all may have the opportunity to work to heal the wounds of our people and to rebuild what the brutal Israeli war machine has destroyed in Gaza." "The moment that they do so, I believe that Hamas will do the same," he said. While not commenting directly on the call for an immediate cease-fire, Israel's UN Ambassador Gabriela Shalev said, "the past eight years have taught us that an arrangement must be fully respected and secured, including the total cessation of rocket fire and smuggling, in order to be durable and to allow the possibility of lasting peace." She said Israel had no choice but to act in self-defense and the "responsibility for the current hostilities lies squarely with Hamas." "The international community must focus its attention on the cessation of Hamas terrorist activity and make clear that a terrorist organization can never be a legitimate leadership," Shalev said. 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. 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 US 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 agreed on Thursday was based on the British-drafted text, with amendments by key Arab negotiators including the foreign ministers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco and Qatar. It "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, IDF troops won't be required to pull out until there is a "durable" cease-fire. The resolution calls on UN 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 US 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. It also encourages "tangible steps" toward Palestinian reconciliation and renewed efforts to achieve Palestinian-Israeli peace "where two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace..." While the resolution was not drafted under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which is militarily enforceable, the Arab League's Moussa said it is "legally binding." Shortly before the final day of UN 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 to be followed by a permanent cease-fire. Hamas has yet to commit to coming to Cairo for talks and said they have major reservations about the plan. The UN resolution "welcomes the Egyptian initiative and other regional and international efforts that are underway." Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit told the Security Council his government was "totally satisfied" with the resolution and would "spare no effort" in dealing with the parties "to restore calm" and revive the peace process. "Let us realize an immediate cease-fire... (and) Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, and let us alleviate the suffering of the people of Gaza and put an end to the blockade, and implement this resolution as soon as possible," he said. 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. Israel 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. 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."