Pressure Rising on U.S. After Vetoing U.N. Call for a Cease-Fire in Gaza

The United States, diplomatically isolated after casting the sole vote against a United Nations resolution calling for a cease-fire in Gaza, came under growing criticism on Saturday by a number of governments, human rights groups and aid organizations that warned of catastrophic consequences for civilians in the war-torn territory.

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, which Washington and others have floated as a potential governing body for postwar Gaza, said the veto on Friday was “a mark of shame that will follow the United States for many years.” He called the United States “aggressive and unethical.”

Nicolas de Rivière, the French ambassador to the United Nations, called for a “new immediate and lasting humanitarian truce,” and without naming its ally, the United States, lamented that the Security Council had “failed once again.”

“We do not see any contradiction between the fight against terrorism and the protection of civilians,” he said.

The diplomatic tensions came as the Israeli military bombarded the Gaza Strip from the air, ground and sea on Saturday.

The United States has stood by Israel as criticism over the war in Gaza has grown, but senior officials in the Biden administration have also displayed what appears to be a growing impatience over mass casualties inflicted on the Gazan population. More than 15,000 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel began its retaliatory war in response to the Oct. 7 killings of 1,200 Israelis by Hamas and other groups.

Among the strongest warnings came from Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, who has said that Israel faced “strategic defeat” if Palestinian civilians were not better protected.

At the same time, the United States continues to dispatch weapons and ammunition to Israel. Two U.S. officials told The New York Times on Saturday that the State Department was pushing through a government sale of 13,000 rounds of tank ammunition valued at hundreds of millions of dollars to Israel, bypassing a congressional review process that is generally required for arms sales to any foreign nation.

Using the procedure to bypass Congress appears to show that administration officials are aware of the growing furor among U.S. lawmakers and ordinary citizens over Israel’s use of American arms in its war in Gaza.

Israel’s ground invasion, which began in northern Gaza in October, has advanced south over the past week as intensive fighting, often at close quarters, has spread through the territory. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have fled northern Gaza for the south, and there are now few places for Gazans to go.

Palestinians in Rafah in southern Gaza on Saturday. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have fled northern Gaza for the south, and there are now few places for Gazans to go.Credit…Mahmud Hams/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Humanitarian aid groups warned on Saturday that thousands of children in the territory were at risk of dying from starvation. Save the Children, a British charity, said that it had documented at least 7,685 children under the age of five who were so malnourished that they required “urgent medical treatment to avoid death.”

In addition to the lack of food, the United Nations has repeatedly warned of the risk of epidemics in Gaza amid conditions that Philippe Lazzarini, the director of the United Nations agency that assists Palestinians, has described as “untenable.”

In a summary of the conditions posted on social media on Friday, Mr. Lazzarini depicted increasingly dystopian scenes across Gaza, with 700 people using a single toilet, tens of thousands of Gazans sleeping in the open air — on streets and in courtyards — and dozens of women giving birth daily inside makeshift refugee camps.

The United Nations estimated this month that there were 50,000 pregnant women in Gaza and that 180 were giving birth daily.

No bakery in northern Gaza had been open in more than a month, according to the United Nations, and most families cannot make bread at home because flour is either unavailable or sold at inflated prices. Save the Children said one of its staff members in Gaza had reported bags of flour being sold for $140 each.

Mr. Lazzarini said the U.N. system for humanitarian relief in the territory, the primary conduit of assistance to the 2.2. million residents of Gaza, was “on the verge of collapse.”

More than 130 of his staff members have been confirmed killed in Israeli bombardments, he said, and 70 percent have been displaced.

“In my 35 years working in complex emergencies, I have never written such a letter — predicting the killing of my staff and the collapse of the mandate I am expected to fulfill,” he said.

With its veto in the U.N. Security Council on Friday, the United States sided with Israel’s claim that ending the war before Hamas is dismantled and removed from power would ensure that the conflict erupts again. Thirteen of the Council’s 15 members voted in favor of the cease-fire measure, and Britain abstained.

The resolution was put forward by the United Arab Emirates, and senior United Nations officials warned that, without a halt in the fighting, it was nearly impossible to get sufficient aid to the Palestinians in Gaza.

Had the resolution passed the Security Council, it would have been legally binding and violations could have meant punishments, including sanctions. But passage may not have had an immediate, practical effect on the fighting, since Israel has signaled that it would ignore such resolutions. Still, had the United States supported the resolution, it would have sent Israel a strong message from its most powerful ally.

Saudi Arabia and other Arab governments have repeatedly called for a cease-fire, arguing that a continued Israeli military campaign would not only kill thousands more Palestinians, but also damage security in Israeli and the Middle East writ large, fueling anger and extremism.

The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, said on Friday in Washington that “leverage has failed, because it hasn’t been applied.” Again calling for a cease-fire, he said, “There is enough leverage in the international community — there is enough leverage in the established institutions of international peace and stability — including the United Nations Security Council, to achieve this goal.”

“We are seeing a position that sees cease-fires as somehow a dirty word, and I honestly can’t understand that,” he added in an interview with “PBS NewsHour” on Friday.

Russia, which has been accused of war crimes in its Ukraine aggression, said the United States was “complicit in Israel’s brutal massacre,” while the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, called for the U.N. Security Council to be reformed, asking, “Is this justice?”

Some of the sharpest criticism of the U.S. veto came from aid organizations.

“By vetoing this resolution, the U.S. stands alone in casting its vote against humanity,” Avril Benoit, the executive director of Doctors Without Borders in the United States, said in a statement on Friday. “The U.S. veto makes it complicit in the carnage in Gaza.”

Reporting was contributed by Liam Stack, Talya Minsberg, Hwaida Saad, Victoria Kim, Matt Surman, Aaron Boxerman and Richard Pérez-Peña.

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