The US has vetoed a United Nations resolution backed by the vast majority of Security Council members and many other nations demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.
The vote came amid Palestinian civilians facing what the UN chief called a “humanitarian nightmare”.
US deputy ambassador Robert Wood criticised the council after the vote for its failure to condemn Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel in which the militants killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, or to acknowledge Israel’s right to defend itself.
He declared that halting military action would allow Hamas to continue to rule Gaza and “only plant the seeds for the next war”.
“For that reason, while the United States strongly supports a durable peace, in which both Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace and security, we do not support calls for an immediate ceasefire,” Mr Wood said.
In a vain effort to press the Biden administration to drop its opposition to a ceasefire, the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and other leading Arab nations and Turkey were in Washington on Friday. But their meeting with secretary of state Antony Blinken was scheduled to take place only after the UN vote.
Israel’s more than two-month military campaign has killed more than 17,400 people in Gaza — 70% of them women and children — and wounded more than 46,000, according to the Palestinian territory’s Health Ministry, which says many others are trapped under rubble. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths.
The council called the emergency meeting to hear from secretary-general Antonio Guterres, who for the first time invoked Article 99 of the UN Charter, which enables a UN chief to raise threats he sees to international peace and security.
He warned of a “humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza and urged the council to demand a humanitarian ceasefire.
Mr Guterres said he raised Article 99 — which had not been used at the UN since 1971 — because “there is a high risk of the total collapse of the humanitarian support system in Gaza”. The UN anticipates this would result in “a complete breakdown of public order and increased pressure for mass displacement into Egypt”, he warned.
Gaza is at “a breaking point”, he said, and desperate people are at serious risk of starvation.
Mr Guterres said Hamas’s brutality against Israelis on October 7 “can never justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people”.
“While indiscriminate rocket fire by Hamas into Israel, and the use of civilians as human shields, are in contravention of the laws of war, such conduct does not absolve Israel of its own violations,” he stressed.
The UN chief detailed the “humanitarian nightmare” Gaza is facing, citing intense, widespread and ongoing Israeli attacks from air, land and sea that reportedly have hit 339 education facilities, 26 hospitals, 56 healthcare facilities, 88 mosques and three churches.
More than 60% of Gaza’s housing has reportedly been destroyed or damaged, some 85% of the population has been forced from their homes, the health system is collapsing, and “nowhere in Gaza is safe”, Mr Guterres said.
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian UN ambassador, told the council that Israel’s objective is “the ethnic cleansing of the Gaza Strip” and “the dispossession and forcible displacement of the Palestinian people”.
“If you are against the destruction and displacement of the Palestinian people, you have to be in favour of an immediate ceasefire,” Mr Mansour said. “When you refuse to call for a ceasefire, you are refusing to call for the only thing that can put an end to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.”
Israel’s UN ambassador Gilad Erdan stressed that regional stability and the security of Israelis and Gazans “can only be achieved once Hamas is eliminated – not one minute before”.
“So the true path to ensure peace is only through supporting Israel’s mission — absolutely not to call for a ceasefire,” he told the council. “Israel committed itself to the elimination of Hamas’s capabilities for the sole reason of ensuring that such horrors could never be repeated again. And if Hamas is not destroyed, such horrors will be repeated.”
In Washington, Jordan’s top diplomat told reporters that the killings of Palestinian civilians in Israel’s bombardment and siege of Gaza were war crimes and threatened to destabilise the region, the US and the world for years to come.
“If people are not seeing it here, we are seeing it,” Jordanian foreign minister Ayman Safadi said, adding: “We’re seeing the challenges that we are facing talking to our people. They are all saying we’re doing nothing. Because despite all our efforts, Israel is continuing these massacres.”