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Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov addresses the United Nations General Assembly, September 24, 2022 at UN headquarters. © 2022 Mary Altaffer/AP Photo

The United Nations General Assembly should use its emergency session on Israel and Palestine this week to call for unfettered humanitarian aid and essential services for civilians in the Gaza Strip. Member countries should also highlight the need for concrete steps to prevent further atrocities against civilians and accountability for serious crimes by all parties.

The Arab Group and Organisation for Islamic Cooperation have sought to reconvene the General Assembly’s 10th Emergency Special Session on October 26, following the recent United States veto of Brazil’s proposed Security Council resolution. That resolution called on Israel and Palestinian armed groups to adhere to international humanitarian law and allow humanitarian aid to reach those in need.

The emergency session comes amid Israel’s incessant bombing of Gaza in retaliation for an unprecedented Hamas-led attack on Israel on October 7 in which an estimated 1,400 people, including children and hundreds of other civilians, were killed and more than 200 people were taken hostage, according to Israeli authorities. More than 6,500 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, including more than 2,700 children, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. Israel has cut off all essential services to Gaza and is preventing all but a trickle of aid.

The 193-nation General Assembly can hold Emergency Special Sessions to take up issues of international peace and security when the Security Council is deadlocked.

A draft ceasefire resolution circulated by the Arab Group includes calls for accountability, compliance with international humanitarian law, and unrestricted humanitarian aid. It is expected to be put to a vote during the General Assembly session. Unlike Security Council resolutions, General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding but can carry political weight.

The assembly could also signal concern about the risk of further mass atrocities by inviting the UN high commissioner for human rights, Volker Türk, and other UN experts to brief member states.

Member states should also underline the importance of the International Criminal Court in delivering impartial justice.

Delegations should call on Israel to avoid using explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas of Gaza, which have turned large parts of neighborhoods to rubble. They should call on Palestinian armed groups to cease indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israeli communities and to immediately and safely release all civilians held hostage.

The US veto prevented the Security Council from acting in the face of unprecedented carnage in Israel and Palestine. The General Assembly should now urgently do what it can in the council’s place.

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