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US Should Back UN Security Council Action to Protect Gaza’s Civilians

Don’t Use Vetoes to Block Resolutions Aimed at Stopping Mass Atrocities

Palestinians inspect the damage after an Israeli airstrike on a house in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, December 15, 2023. © 2023 Abed Rahim Khatib/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

This week, US President Joe Biden warned Israel it was losing international support because of its “indiscriminate bombing” of Gaza, which are laws-of-war violations.

The United States should now back those words by acting at the United Nations Security Council to pressure Israel, as well as Palestinian armed groups, to comply with international humanitarian law and protect civilians. Since hostilities began on October 7, the US has twice blocked Security Council resolutions demanding Israel and Palestinian armed groups comply with international law. The US should also back calls to restore essential services to Gaza and allow humanitarian aid to reach all those in need.

Ever since Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups killed hundreds of civilians in Israel and took more than 200 hostage on October 7, Israel has been relentlessly bombing Gaza. The hostilities have displaced more than 85 percent of Gaza’s 2.2 million people, created a severe humanitarian crisis, and killed more than 18,700 people, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

The US voting record at the UN has highlighted double standards in Washington’s commitment to the laws of war. While blocking two Security Council resolutions in October and December, the US abstained from a November vote on a resolution focused on the plight of children in Gaza, which enabled it to pass.

All three Security Council resolutions—the two that were vetoed and the one adopted—called on Israel to protect civilians and allow aid into Gaza and on Palestinian armed groups to release civilians held hostage. The one that passed is legally binding but Israel and Palestinian armed groups have defied it.

No permanent Security Council member—not the US, not Russia—should veto resolutions aimed at stopping mass atrocities.

The General Assembly, where no country has a veto but resolutions are non-binding, passed two resolutions demanding compliance with international humanitarian law and protection of civilians in Israel and Palestine. The US was among a handful of countries that joined Israel in voting against both.

The US should consistently call for respect for international humanitarian law. It says it has urged Israel to protect civilians, so it should support UN efforts to do the same. It should back the urgent adoption and implementation of a Security Council resolution that demands Israel and Palestinian armed groups end their laws-of-war violations that have cost thousands of civilian lives. And it should back efforts aimed at ensuring accountability for those responsible for war crimes, no matter who commits them.

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