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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

UN General Assembly votes for Israel-Hamas cease-fire, countering US veto

Dennis Francis, a Trinidadian diplomat and President of the 78th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, addresses delegates at the U.N. Headquarters in Manhattan earlier this week. (Dave Sanders/The New York Times)

By Farnaz Fassihi

The U.N. General Assembly demanded an immediate cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war, in an overwhelming vote earlier this week that highlighted much of the world’s desire to bring the bloody conflict to an end.

About three-quarters of the body’s members voted in favor of the nonbinding resolution, underscoring the isolation of Israel and the United States, which last week blocked a cease-fire resolution in the Security Council.

Resounding applause and cheers erupted after the vote was announced: 153 in favor, 10 against and 23 abstentions. The resolution required two-thirds majority for passage.

“How many more thousands of lives must be lost before we do something?” Dennis Francis, a diplomat from Trinidad and Tobago currently serving as president of the General Assembly, said in an address to the chamber before the vote. “No more time is left. The carnage must stop.”

The resolution was put forth by the U.N.’s Arab Group and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which represents Arab and Muslim countries. Despite their support of the nonbinding resolution, none of the 57 members of the Muslim organization have offered Palestinians refugee status in their countries.

More than 15,000 people, many of them women and children, have been killed in the Gaza Strip, according to local health officials, since Israel declared war on Hamas after the militant group launched a terrorist attack on Oct. 7, killing more than 1,200 people and taking 240 others hostage.

General Assembly resolutions are never legally binding, but they carry political weight and are a symbolic reflection of the wider perspective among the U.N.’s 193 members.

The countries that joined the U.S. and Israel in rejecting the cease-fire resolution Tuesday were Austria, the Czech Republic, Guatemala, Liberia, Micronesia, Paraguay and Papua New Guinea and Nauru. Among the countries that abstained were Britain, Hungary, South Sudan and Germany.

Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., Gilad Erdan, sharply criticized the U.N. and said that passing the resolution made the institution more irrelevant. He said that calls for a cease-fire aimed to “tie Israel’s hand and to continue Hamas’ reign of terror.”

The Assembly convened the emergency session after the U.S. vetoed a binding Security Council resolution for a cease-fire Friday, saying that halting the fighting would allow Hamas to regroup and plan more terrorist attacks similar to the devastating assault on Israel it led from Gaza on Oct. 7.

Pressure to halt the bloodshed has increased as the war between Israel and Hamas has battered civilians in Gaza. The U.N.’s senior leadership and humanitarian aid agencies have said that a cease-fire is the only viable way to ease the suffering of Gaza’s 2.2 million people.

Vast swaths of homes and infrastructure have been destroyed; more than 85% of the population is displaced; hunger is widespread; and disease is now rampant, according to the World Health Organization.

President Joe Biden has long pledged that the United States would continue to support Israel’s quest to eradicate Hamas, but earlier Tuesday, it appeared that a rift had opened between the Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on what happens after the war.

Biden, speaking at a fundraiser, warned Netanyahu that his country was losing international support, citing “the indiscriminate bombing that takes place.” Hours before, Netanyahu rejected a U.S.-backed plan for the Palestinian Authority, which administers part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, to play a role in Gaza’s reconstruction.

The resolution passed Tuesday said Gaza faced a “catastrophic humanitarian” situation, emphasized that both Palestinian and Israeli civilians must be protected under international humanitarian laws and demanded that all parties abide by these laws.

The resolution also called for the immediate release of hostages held in Gaza and humanitarian access to the enclave. But it stopped short of condemning Hamas’ terrorist attacks on Oct. 7.

The U.S. and Austria proposed amendments to the resolution to condemn Hamas’ attacks, but they failed to garner the required two-thirds majority. Some who opposed the amendment, like Pakistan, said they could not support language that condemned Hamas but did not call out Israel as perpetrating crimes in Gaza.

“I think most U.N. member states have lost patience with the U.S. stance on the war, even if many were initially repulsed by Hamas’ atrocities,” said Richard Gowan, an expert on the U.N. at the International Crisis Group. He said that, earlier in the war, many Arab diplomats had been keen to engage with the United States to find common ground on humanitarian issues.

“Now, by contrast, the Arab group has been on a campaign to highlight how few countries back the U.S. in opposing a cease-fire,” he said.

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