Security Council searching for a Gaza vote that U.S. won’t veto

The U.N. Security Council failed again Tuesday to come up with a resolution calling for a stop to fighting in Gaza — at least for long enough to allow more humanitarian aid into the enclave — that would not be vetoed by the United States.

A morning meeting ended without a vote as closed-door negotiations continued on a new draft, sponsored by the United Arab Emirates and seen by The Washington Post, that eliminated the word “cease-fire,” which was present in a version offered Monday. Instead, it demanded an “urgent suspension of hostilities to allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access, and for urgent steps toward a sustainable cessation of hostilities.”

But negotiators were unable to agree on language, and a late-afternoon vote was canceled. The 15-member council is scheduled to reconvene Wednesday morning.

The Biden administration has vetoed several cease-fire resolutions, arguing that ending Israel’s offensive in Gaza while leaving Hamas’s military capabilities intact and its top leaders in place would effectively hand the militant group a victory. The United States has also objected in earlier resolutions to the lack of a specific condemnation of Hamas, which killed 1,200 people in a surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7, triggering the current hostilities, or a declaration of Israel’s right to defend itself in the wake of that assault. The latest version contained neither.

“It’s important for us that the rest of the world understand what’s at stake here,” U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

In Gaza, where Israel’s offensive continued, the Health Ministry said Tuesday that Israel’s military had detained 93 health-care workers “in inhumane conditions, under interrogation under torture, starvation and extreme cold.”

Al-Awda Hospital, one of the remaining health facilities in northern Gaza, said 12 people from the hospital were being held by the Israel Defense Forces. The health ministry previously said Israeli forces stormed the hospital and detained employees, including the facility’s director.

An IDF spokesman responded that “individuals suspected of involvement in terrorist activity are being detained and questioned. Individuals who are found not to be taking part in terrorist activities are released.”

After encircling another medical center in northern Gaza, the Kamal Adwan Hospital, the IDF said it detained approximately 90 people who it said belonged to Hamas. The IDF accused Hamas militants of using the hospital as a base and said it found weapons hidden inside incubators for premature babies.

Hussam Abu Safiya, a pediatrician at that hospital, and a civilian who was sheltering there told The Post that there were no Hamas fighters or weapons caches there.

The Post could not independently verify claims from either the health ministry or the Israeli military.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday hosted a virtual conference from Bahrain on Red Sea maritime security after more than a dozen attacks on shipping in recent weeks by Iran-aligned Houthi rebels, who have said they are acting in solidarity with Hamas. Austin urged the international community to respond to the “unprecedented series of attacks” and “deter future Houthi aggression” with “collective action” to protect “the fundamental principle of freedom of navigation,” according to a Pentagon readout.

Maersk, the world’s second-largest shipping firm, said Tuesday that some of its vessels would circumnavigate Africa rather than enter the Suez Canal via the Red Sea, the BBC reported. BP and other major companies have also said they would reroute.

The United States on Monday announced Operation Prosperity Guardian to protect the sea route, through which at least 10 percent of global trade passes. The initiative is to include Britain, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain, officials said, although not all are expected to send ships to the region. Bahrain is the only regional participant.

Kirby, asked why Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the two military powerhouses in the Persian Gulf, were not listed among participating nations, declined to discuss “diplomatic conversations.” Both countries, he said, “are significant partners of the United States on a range of issues across the region,” and “they should speak to their level of participation.”

The European Union, NATO and several Pacific nations joined the United States Tuesday in condemning “Houthi interference with navigational rights and freedoms in the waters around the Arabian Peninsula, particularly the Red Sea.”

Houthi militants said they would not be deterred from launching more attacks. “Our war is a moral war,” Mohammed Albukhaiti, a member of the organization’s ruling council, told The Post, “and therefore, no matter how many alliances America mobilizes, our military operations will not stop.”

Tor Wennesland, the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, told the Security Council Tuesday morning that humanitarian efforts to aid more than 2 million Gazans in dire need are “near the brink” of collapse in the face of “nearly insurmountable challenges, amid displacement on an unimaginable scale.”

In an effort to satisfy U.S. concerns, negotiators included in the three-page draft resolution a demand for “the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages” and access to address their medical needs. About 130 hostages are believed to remain in the enclave following the release of more than 100 during a 10-day humanitarian pause that ended early this month.

Although the Tuesday draft did not directly criticize Israel or Hamas — it referred to them only as “parties to the conflict” — it “firmly condemns all violations of international humanitarian law, including all indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian objects, all violence and hostilities against civilians, and all acts of terrorism.” It calls for “urgent and extended humanitarian pauses and corridors throughout the Gaza Strip for a sufficient number of days to enable full, rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access.”

National security adviser Jake Sullivan and Austin in recent visits to Israel have emphasized the Biden administration’s continued support for Israel’s war aims. But they have also voiced increasing discomfort with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government as global condemnation builds over Washington’s refusal to call for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire.

The White House has pressured Israel to end what President Biden has called “indiscriminate” airstrikes and ground operations that have caused what Gazan health authorities say are nearly 20,000 civilian deaths in favor of more “targeted” and “surgical” military operations against Hamas that avoid civilian casualties.

The draft also calls for turning over to the United Nations the current system of Israeli inspections of every truck entering Gaza to speed the delivery of humanitarian aid. The U.N. mechanism was one of three options proposed in a letter to the council Monday by Secretary General António Guterres. In addition to “a more robust United Nations presence on the ground,” Guterres alternatively suggested the establishment of “a civilian observer mission … to monitor” aid shipments, or the deployment of unarmed U.N. military observers.

Any of those proposals are likely to be strongly opposed by Israel, which does not hold a seat on the 15-member council.

The draft resolution “takes note” of Israel’s decision this week to open its Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza to ease the logjam through the Rafah crossing from Egypt — the only entry to the enclave that Israel does not control. But it also demands that all “parties … allow and facilitate the use of all land, sea and air routes to and throughout the entire Gaza Strip.”

Adam Taylor, Ali al-Mujahid, Adela Suliman, Annabelle Timsit, Sarah Dadouch and Michael Birnbaum contributed to this report.

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