Israel fury at US abstention on Security Council ceasefire vote

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: Israel reacted angrily on Monday to the first UN Security Council vote to demand an "immediate ceasefire" in the Gaza war, after its closest ally the United States abstained, while fighting raged in the Palestinian territory.

After the vote, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres led calls for the resolution to be implemented.

"Failure would be unforgivable," he wrote on social media platform X.

Immediately after the resolution passed, Israel cancelled the visit of a delegation to Washington, which the United States had requested to discuss concerns over a mooted Israeli invasion of Rafah, in crowded southern Gaza.

Israel said the United States abstention "hurts" both its war effort and attempts to release hostages.

It was "a clear retreat from the consistent position of the US," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said.

While diplomatic attention turned to New York, fighting continued across the Gaza Strip, with Israeli forces battling Hamas around at least two major hospitals.

Foreign military aircraft again dropped aid into northern Gaza, where the humanitarian situation is particularly acute and civilians are fleeing south.

"It is a famine," said Mohamad al-Sabaawi who like others rushed to the seashore hoping for something that had floated down. He walked away with a small yellow can of fish.

Washington insisted that its Security Council abstention, which followed numerous vetoes, did not mark a shift in policy, although it has taken an increasingly tougher line with Israel in recent weeks.

The abstention meant that the resolution went through with all the other 14 Security Council members voting yes.

It demands an "immediate ceasefire" for the ongoing Muslim holy month of Ramadan, leading to a "lasting" truce.

The resolution, which drew applause in the usually staid Council, also demands that Hamas and other fighters free hostages they seized, though it does not directly link a release to the ceasefire.

The Gaza war broke out with Hamas's unprecedented attack of October 7 which resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

Fighters also seized about 250 hostages, of whom Israel believes around 130 are still held in Gaza, including 33 presumed dead.

Vowing to destroy Hamas and free the captives, Israel has carried out a relentless bombardment and ground invasion of the coastal territory.

The health ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip on Monday put the total Palestinian death toll at 32,333, most of them women and children.

Hamas welcomed the Security Council resolution and reaffirmed its readiness to negotiate the release of hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

The Palestinian Authority, which has partial administrative control in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, also welcomed the vote. A top PA official, Hussein al-Sheikh, called "for a permanent cessation to this criminal war and Israel's immediate withdrawal from the Gaza Strip."

Member states are obliged to comply with resolutions passed by the Security Council.

European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen said its implementation was "vital for the protection of all civilians", while Jordanian foreign ministry spokesman Sufyan Qudah said "Israel must abide by this decision."

The resolution came while Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant was visiting Washington.

"We have no moral right to stop the war while there are still hostages held in Gaza," he said after the vote.

Tensions between the United States and Israel have grown alongside US concerns about the war's impact on civilians in Gaza, where the UN says famine is imminent.

Netanyahu's determination to launch a ground operation in Rafah, the city on Gaza's southern border where most of the territory's population is sheltering, has become a key point of contention.

The White House said it was "perplexed" and "disappointed" by Israel's cancellation of the delegation to Washington, but the State Department said it would "find other ways to make our concerns known" over Israel's planned Rafah invasion.

In Rafah, Palestinians welcomed the UN vote and called for the United States to use its influence on Israel to secure a ceasefire.

Bilal Awad, 63, said Washington must "stand against an attack on Rafah, and support the return of the displaced to their cities."

Ihab al-Assar, 60, expressed hope that "Israel will comply" with the Security Council.

In Gaza City, from where Assar fled, troops and tanks have encircled Al-Shifa Hospital, the territory's biggest, for a week. More recently they moved on Al-Amal Hospital in the main southern city of Khan Yunis.

Israel has labelled its operations "precise operational activities" and said it has taken care to avoid harm to civilians, but aid agencies have voiced alarm about non-combatants caught up in the fighting.

The Israeli military said it was battling fighters around the two hospitals and reported around 20 fighters killed around Al-Amal over the previous day in close-quarters combat and air strikes.

Palestinians living near Al-Shifa have reported corpses in the streets, constant bombardment and the rounding up of men who are stripped to their underwear and questioned.

Israel's military said it had detained a total of about 500 fighters "affiliated with" Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another group, during the Al-Shifa operation.

The fighting came as an independent UN-appointed expert, Francesca Albanese, said there were "reasonable grounds to believe" Israel's actions in Gaza had met the threshold for "acts of genocide."

Israel rejected Albanese's report, due to be presented to the UN's Human Rights Council on Tuesday, as an "obscene inversion of reality."

At Al-Amal Hospital, the Palestinian Red Crescent said Israeli troops ordered staff and patients to evacuate, but the departing convoy got stuck due to debris on the road.

The charity reported that Israeli troops opened fire on staffers who tried to clear the debris, wounding two – one of whom made it back to the convoy.

Israel's military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.--AFP

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