UN Votes on Gaza Cease Fire

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - In a surprise move, the United States
abstained from a U.N. Security Council vote Thursday night urging
an immediate cease-fire in Gaza, saying it wanted to see the
results of Egyptian-mediated talks with Hamas and Israel before
calling for a halt to military action.
The 14-0 U.N. vote came on the 13th day of an Israeli air and
ground offensive against the Islamic group Hamas which rules Gaza
and has been launching rockets and mortars into southern Israel for
years. It followed three days of intense negotiations between
ministers from key Arab nations and the council's veto-wielding
Western powers - the U.S., Britain and France.
Israel and Hamas were not parties to the vote and it will now be
up to them to stop the fighting. But the text of the resolution was
hammered out by the United States, Israel's chief ally, and by Arab
nations that have ties to Hamas and the Palestinians in the
Israeli-occupied territories.
"We are all very conscious that peace is made on the ground
while resolutions are written in the United Nations," British
Foreign Secretary David Miliband said.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States
"fully supports" the resolution but abstained because it
"thought it important to see the outcomes of the Egyptian
mediation," referring to an Egyptian-French initiative aimed at
achieving a cease-fire.
In deciding that the U.S. should not block the resolution, Rice
said, "the Security Council has provided a road map" for Gaza.
"I believe that it is those efforts that will ultimately help
to lead to a durable cease-fire ... but to a sustainable peace in
Gaza, and we must all support the Egyptian efforts," Rice said.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki told reporters he was
"not happy" and had expected all 15 council members to vote for
resolution. He said Palestinians are concerned that Israel will
delay a cease-fire for several days and expand its attack to new
targets in Gaza.
Israel "must immediately implement this resolution," Malki
said. "The moment that they do so, I believe that Hamas will do
the same."
Malki is a member of moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud
Abbas' government, whose authority extends only to the West Bank
after rival Hamas violently took over Gaza in June 2007.
Israeli U.N. Ambassador Gabriela Shalev did not comment directly
on the call for an immediate cease-fire, saying the international
community must focus its attention on the cessation of "Hamas
terrorist activity and make clear that a terrorist organization can
never be a legitimate leadership."
"The past eight years have taught us that an arrangement must
be fully respected and secured, including the total cessation of
rocket fire and smuggling, in order to be durable and to allow the
possibility of lasting peace," Shalev said.
With Palestinian civilian casualties mounting, the Arabs were
under intense pressure to get a resolution - and several diplomats
said they wanted it before Friday prayers at mosques in the region.
As of Thursday, about 750 Palestinians, at least a quarter
civilians, had been killed along with 13 Israelis.
The resolution expressed "grave concern" at the escalating
violence and the deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza and
emphasized the need to open all border crossings and achieve a
lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Arab nations called for the emergency Security Council meeting
to get the council to call for an immediate cease-fire.
They had been pressing their own resolution, which not only
would have demanded an end to all military activity in Gaza but was
revised to include mention of Hamas by name and call for an
international force to prevent arms smuggling - two key U.S.
demands.
But the changes in the Arab text didn't meet all the demands of
the United States and its key Western allies, Britain and France,
all veto-wielding members of the council.
Those nations countered by shelving a weaker "presidential
statement" they had proposed Wednesday and introducing a rival
resolution written by the British.
The resolution "stresses the urgency of and calls for an
immediate, durable and fully respected cease-fire, leading to the
full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza." While the "call"
is tantamount to a demand on the parties, Israel's troops won't be
required to pull out until there is a "durable" cease-fire.
The resolution calls on U.N. member states "to intensify
efforts to provide arrangements and guarantees in Gaza in order to
sustain a durable cease-fire and calm, including to prevent illicit
trafficking in arms and ammunition and to ensure the sustained
re-opening" of border crossings.
This is a weaker statement than Israel sought, and the U.S.
would have liked. There is also no mention in the resolution of an
"international observer force" proposed by the Arabs - and the
word "Hamas" was dropped during the negotiations.
The resolution "condemns all violence and hostilities directed
against civilians," calls for "unimpeded" humanitarian access to
Gaza, and welcomes the initiative to open "humanitarian
corridors." It urges international efforts to provide humanitarian
aid and rebuild Gaza's economy.
While the resolution was not drafted under Chapter 7 of the U.N.
Charter, which is militarily enforceable, the Arab League's Moussa
said it is "legally binding."
As for implementation, he said, "we'll get it" because
following the Security Council's unanimous approval, the council
"will have to supervise the implementation."
Shortly before the final day of U.N. negotiations began, Israeli
envoys went to Cairo and held talks with Egyptian officials on an
initiative by the presidents of Egypt and France that calls for a
temporary truce. Hamas militants have yet to commit to coming to
Cairo for talks and said they have major reservations about the
plan.
Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit told the Security
Council his government was "totally satisfied" with the
resolution and would "spare no effort" in dealing with the
parties to restore calm and revive the peace process.
In a possible sign Hamas was unwilling to compromise yet, a
senior Hamas official in Syria, Mohammed Nazzal, told Syrian TV on
Thursday that the group would never surrender and vowed to fight
house to house against Israeli troops in Gaza.
A joint statement issued by Palestinian groups based in Syria's
capital Thursday rejected the Egyptian-French initiative, saying it
would undermine Gazans' resistance and give Israel "a free hand"
to continue aggression.
Hamas is normally a member of the coalition, but it wasn't clear
if it signed the statement. Hamas officials in Syria were not
available for comment.
Israel's government said Wednesday that it viewed the
Egyptian-French proposal positively but stopped short of
acceptance.
The leaders of France and Germany met Thursday to discuss the
crisis and urged quick action to halt the fighting. French
President Nicolas Sarkozy said any time lost would play into the
hands of those who want war.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel backed the Egyptian-French plan.
"We must do everything we can so that this cease-fire occurs as
soon as possible," she said.
Speaking in Madrid, Spain, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
called the Egyptian-French initiative "a positive element" in the
peace process and said that "we support it." Abbas' Fatah
faction, which controls the West Bank, has little sway in Gaza.
The Egyptian-French initiative aims to achieve a "lasting
halt" to the fighting and a pullout of Israeli troops along with a
cessation of militant rocket fire into Israel and arms smuggling to
Hamas, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier said.
In Washington, the Senate unanimously adopted a resolution
stating an "unwavering commitment" to Israel and its right to
defend itself, while also calling for "a viable and independent
Palestinian state living in peace alongside a secure state of
Israel." The House was expected to pass a similar measure Friday.


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