Washington faces UN showdown over fresh resolution for Gaza ceasefire

<span>Photograph: Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images

The Biden administration faces a showdown at the UN security council in the next 48 hours at which it may feel impelled to use its veto to protect Israel by rejecting calls for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.

The United Arab Emirates, the Arab country on the 15-strong security council, said it would table a resolution on Thursday for debate on Friday after the UN secretary general, António Guterres, and most Islamic states called for the ceasefire.

Guterres infuriated Israel on Thursday by taking the rare step of invoking article 99 of the UN charter to notify the security council that the crisis in Gaza represented a threat to world peace. It was the first time he had invoked the article since he became secretary general in 2017.

The US deputy envoy, Robert Wood, said the Biden administration did not support the Gaza issue being brought to the UN security council at this point. “We remain focused on the difficult and sensitive diplomacy geared to getting more hostages released, more aid flowing into Gaza and better protection of civilians,” he told Reuters.

The diplomatic price the US would have to pay for vetoing a ceasefire call is high, but Washington believes a ceasefire would leave Hamas entrenched in Gaza. It instead supports pauses so long as Hamas continues to release more of the hostages that it seized in its assault on Israel on 7 October.

Wood’s stance could put him at odds with the EU foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, who issued a statement supporting Guterres’s call. Guterres was also given support in social media statements from the heads of a broad array of UN agencies including the heads of the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Borrell said “the UN must act immediately to prevent a full collapse of the humanitarian situation”.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director general, warned that Gaza’s health system was “near total collapse”.

In a show of solidarity at the UN headquarters on Wednesday, all the ambassadors from Arab states stood alongside the Palestinian ambassador to the UN, Riyad Mansour, to express their support for a ceasefire. Mansour said: “A lot of things are converging together and it may produce a ceasefire. This war has to stop. There has to be a ceasefire and it has to take place immediately.”

A larger show of solidarity from the 57 ambassadors representing the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is expected at the UN headquarters on Thursday.

The Arab ambassadors also met the international criminal court prosecutor, Karim Khan, in New York on Tuesday to urge him to visit Gaza as soon as possible and “see with his own eyes the tragedies of the Palestinian people”. They urged him to make the fate of children central to an expedited investigation.

Khan said in a social media statement on Wednesday: “I have emphasised the imperative that humanitarian relief be allowed into Gaza immediately and at scale. I wish to reiterate in the clearest terms possible that wilfully impeding relief supplies to civilians may constitute a war crime under the ICC Rome statute.”

The US has already used its veto once to block a resolution calling for a humanitarian ceasefire on the basis that the draft resolution did not explicitly criticise Hamas.

A contact group of foreign ministers from the Arab League and the OIC are due in Washington on Thursday to demand that the US ends its support for Israeli actions. The contact group was set up after a rare joint summit of Arab League and OIC leaders in Riyadh on 11 November. The group has been touring the capitals of the five permanent members of the UN security council.

In his letter, Guterres described “appalling human suffering, physical destruction and collective trauma across Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories” and said “the capacity of the UN and its humanitarian partners had been decimated by supply shortages, lack of fuel, interrupted communications and growing insecurity”.

He said the conditions for meaningful humanitarian operations did not exist amid the fighting. He added: “Without shelter or the essentials to survive, I expect public order to break down soon due to the desperate conditions.”

The Arab League has been asking for more border crossings to be opened and for the UN to take control of the checks on aid trucks currently conducted by Israel.

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In response late on Wednesday, the Israeli cabinet permitted some fuel trucks to enter Gaza.

The draft resolution places diplomatic pressure on the US to do more to control the actions of the government of Benjamin Netanyahu. At a press conference last week, the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said Israel had a sophisticated army capable of operating without inflicting a high level of civilian casualties. He also said an increase in aid was imperative. The US points to Israel’s agreement that it will establish deconfliction sites at UN buildings that will not be attacked.

The UK foreign secretary, David Cameron, is due to meet his US counterpart, Blinken, on Thursday afternoon.