UN General Assembly votes to demand immediate ceasefire in Gaza

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The United Nations General Assembly has voted to demand an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in war-torn Gaza, in a rebuke to the United States which has repeatedly blocked ceasefire calls in the UN’s Security Council.

A majority of 153 nations voted for the ceasefire resolution in the General Assembly’s emergency special session Tuesday, while 10 voted against and 23 abstained.

While a General Assembly vote is politically significant and seen as wielding moral weight, it is nonbinding, unlike a Security Council resolution. The US last week vetoed a ceasefire resolution in the smaller Security Council, which had been approved by a majority of the powerful 15-member body.

Tuesday’s brief resolution calls for a ceasefire, for all parties to comply with international law, and for humanitarian access to hostages as well as their “immediate and unconditional” release. It notably contains stronger language than an October vote in the assembly that had called for a “sustained humanitarian truce.”

The vote, hailed as “historic” by Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour, comes as the war between Israel and Hamas enters its third month, and as medics and aid groups sound alarm bells on the humanitarian situation in besieged Gaza. More than 18,000 people have been killed in Gaza since fighting broke out, the Hamas-controlled health ministry in the enclave said Monday.

The resolution “does not ‘call for’ or ‘urges’ – it demands, and we will not rest until we see compliance of Israel with this demand,” Mansour said. A ceasefire is necessary to move the “massive” amounts of humanitarian assistance needed by Gaza’s besieged civilian population, he added.

Israel has said it will not stop its military campaign until it eradicates Palestinian group Hamas, which controls Gaza, following its October 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people and saw around 240 kidnapped, according to Israeli authorities. Over 100 hostages are thought to remain in captivity in Gaza.

Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan described the resolution as a “disgraceful” attempt to bind Israel’s hands, warning that “continuing Israel’s operation in Gaza is the only way any hostages will be released.”

Israel has rejected previous calls for a ceasefire, though it agreed to a seven-day truce for the release of Israeli hostages held in Gaza.

Israel voted against Tuesday’s resolution along with the US, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Austria, the Czech Republic, Guatemala, Liberia, Micronesia and Nauru.

‘One singular priority’

“We have one singular priority – only one – to save lives,” said General Assembly President Dennis Francis, opening the emergency session on Tuesday afternoon, warning that civilians in Gaza have nowhere safe to shelter from the fighting and aerial bombardment.

“Even war has rules, and it is imperative that we prevent any deviation from these principles and values – the validity of which resides in their universal application,” he said.

With vital infrastructure blasted to rubble and limited access to water, medicine and food, more Gaza civilians may end up dying of diseases than from bombs and missiles, UN officials have warned. Hunger is a growing issue in the enclave.

Addressing the assembly, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said that Washington does “agree that the humanitarian situation in Gaza is dire…and that civilians must be protected with international humanitarian law,” but urged nations to support an amendment to the resolution condemning Hamas, which did not pass.

”A ceasefire right now would be temporary at best, and dangerous at worst,” she said. “Dangerous to Israelis, who would be subject to relentless attacks, and also dangerous to Palestinians who deserve the chance to build a better future for themselves free from a group that hides behind innocent civilians.”

In a break with its southern neighbor, Canada cast its vote in support of the resolution, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issuing a joint statement with the leaders of Australia and New Zealand in support of “urgent international efforts towards a sustainable ceasefire.”

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Australian officials had been engaging with Canadian officials for some time on the issue, and more recently with New Zealand’s new government.

“We think that it’s important that very close allies and likeminded countries speak together in support of the position that we’ve articulated,” Wong told reporters Wednesday.

“We are democracies, and we expect of ourselves a high standard, and we expect that we will all work to comply with international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilian life,” she said.

Canadian ambassador to the UN Bob Rae called on Hamas to lay down its weapons and stop using civilians as “human shields.”

He added: “The price of defeating Hamas cannot be the continuous suffering of Palestinian civilians.”

South Africa’s representative Mathu Joyini meanwhile invoked her country’s “own painful past experience of a system of apartheid” to impress on fellow states the need to “take action in accordance with international law.”

Tuesday’s vote, she said, “presents an opportunity for us to illustrate that the organization that was created to give hope for peace is not tone-deaf to the suffering of the most vulnerable.”

In a short statement, Izzat Al-Rishq, a member of the Hamas Political Bureau, welcomed the resolution and condemned what he termed as a “war of genocide and ethnic cleansing” against the Palestinian people.

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