Israel cancels US talks after UN Gaza ceasefire vote

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Ambassadors, except for United States Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, raise their hands to vote in favour of a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, during a United Nations Security Council meeting at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, USA, 25 March 2024.Image source, EPA

Israel has cancelled a meeting in Washington after the US declined to veto a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The resolution, which also called for the release of all hostages, followed several failed attempts at similar measures since the 7 October attacks.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the US of having “abandoned” its previous policy.

The spat comes amid calls for urgent action to avert a famine in Gaza.

Since the start of the conflict, the US has used its veto power to block three Security Council resolutions calling for pauses in the fighting or a ceasefire. Another two have been vetoed by both Russia and China.

On Monday, the US abstained on a resolution that called for an “immediate” ceasefire for the rest of the month of Ramadan – two weeks – and the “immediate and unconditional release of all hostages”.

The 14 other members of the council, including the UK, voted in favour, meaning the resolution passed.

Following the vote, Mr Netanyahu objected that the resolution did not make the call for a ceasefire conditional on the release of the hostages, as the US and Israel had both argued it should.

Israel believes Hamas and its allies are still holding about 130 hostages in Gaza, including 33 presumed dead.

“Today’s resolution gives Hamas hope that international pressure will force Israel to accept a ceasefire without the release of our hostages, thus harming both the war effort and the effort to release the hostages,” Mr Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.

It added that, “in light of the change in the US position”, a planned visit by an Israeli delegation to the US this week would not go ahead.

Israeli and US officials had been due to meet to discuss Israel’s planned offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where some 1.5 million Palestinians have sought shelter, having fled the fighting elsewhere in Gaza.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said publicly that a ground operation in Rafah risks killing more civilians and is “not the way” to defeat Hamas.

Responding to the Israeli decision, US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said it was “disappointing” but reiterated the US view that “a major ground offensive in Rafah would be a major mistake”.

He added that scheduled meetings between Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant and US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan would go ahead as planned.

Yair Lapid, Israel’s opposition leader and former prime minister, criticised Mr Netanyahu’s decision, described the episode as “unnecessary” and said Mr Netanyahu had been “irresponsible”.

“Bad for Israel. Bad for security, bad for the economy,” he said on X, formerly Twitter.

“Sometimes you have to say ‘no’ to the Americans. Israel is indeed an independent country, and we do not need anyone’s permission to defend ourselves. [But] it is better to keep the quarrels in closed rooms.”

UN Security Council resolutions are widely considered to be legally binding on UN member states, although the US has said it does not consider Monday’s vote to be binding on Israel.

Mr Gallant has said Israel will not stop the war in Gaza while hostages are still being held there. The hostages were seized when Hamas attacked southern Israel on 7 October, killing about 1,200 people, most of them civilians.

The Palestinian representative to the UN, Riyad Mansour, welcomed the resolution but said it was overdue.

“It has taken six months, over 100,000 Palestinians killed and maimed, two million displaced, and famine, for this council to finally demand an immediate ceasefire,” he said.

Hamas also welcomed the vote, saying it was ready “to engage in an immediate prisoner exchange process that leads to the release of prisoners on both sides”.

Talks between Israeli and Hamas representatives continue via mediators in Qatar. Reports suggest that a deal currently being proposed would see 40 Israeli hostages released in exchange for 800 Palestinian prisoners.

A view from inside an RAF plane shows humanitarian aid being airdropped over Gaza

Image source, UK Ministry of Defence/ PA

Monday’s resolution came amid huge concern over the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Last week, Mr Blinken warned that the entire population of Gaza was experiencing “severe levels of acute food insecurity”.

The UN World Food Programme has also warned that, in Gaza’s two northern governorates, famine is expected to set in by May unless the flow of aid into the territory is increased.

Following Monday’s vote, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the resolution “must be implemented” and that “failure would be unforgivable”.

Early on Tuesday, the British government announced that it had carried out its first airdrop of food into Gaza.

It said the Royal Air Force drop included 10 tonnes of supplies: water, rice, cooking oil, flour, tinned goods and baby formula.

It also repeated calls on Israel to allow more aid in via Gaza’s ports and to open more land crossings into the territory.

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