February 21, 2024

Israel faced growing diplomatic isolation in its war against Hamas as the United Nations demanded an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza and U.S. President Joe Biden told the longtime ally its “indiscriminate” bombing of civilians was hurting international support.

After dire warnings from U.N. officials about a deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the 193-member U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday passed a resolution calling for a ceasefire with three-quarters of member states voting in favour.

“The price of defeating Hamas cannot be the continuous suffering of all Palestinian civilians,” the leaders of Canada, Australia and New Zealand said separately in a joint statement calling for a ceasefire.

The Palestinian Authority welcomed the resolution and urged countries to pressure Israel to comply. A Hamas official in exile, Izzat El-Reshiq, in a statement on Telegram echoed that reaction, saying Israel should “stop its aggression, genocide, and ethnic cleansing against our people.”

The U.S. and Israel, which argue a ceasefire only benefits Hamas, voted against the measure along with eight other countries.

Before the U.N. vote, Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan said: “A ceasefire means one thing and one thing only – ensuring the survival of Hamas, ensuring the survival of genocidal terrorists committed to the annihilation of Israel and Jews.”

Before the resolution, Biden said Israel now has support from “most of the world” including the U.S. and European Union for its fight against the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

“But they’re starting to lose that support by indiscriminate bombing that takes place,” he told a campaign donor event in Washington.

In the most public sign of division between the leaders so far, Biden also said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needed to change his hardline government and that ultimately Israel “can’t say no” to an independent Palestinian state – something that Israeli hardliners oppose.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan will travel to Israel this week and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will visit the Middle East next week. Biden said Sullivan will emphasize the U.S. commitment to Israel as well as the need to protect civilian lives in Gaza

Israel’s assault on Gaza to root out Hamas has killed at least 18,205 Palestinians including many children and wounded nearly 50,000 since Oct. 7, according to the Gaza health ministry.

The conflict has also led to starvation, displaced 85% of the population from their homes and caused diseases to spread, according to the U.N. and Gaza health ministry.

Israel launched its onslaught after a cross-border raid by Hamas fighters who killed 1,200 people and took 240 hostage in southern Israel on Oct. 7. Israel on Tuesday declared 19 of 134 people still in captivity in Gaza dead in absentia after the bodies of two hostages were recovered.

The U.N. resolution is not binding but carries political weight, reflecting a global view on the war. The United States vetoed a similar call in the 15-member Security Council last week but does not have a veto in the General Assembly.

Tuesday’s resolution got 153 votes in favour, 10 against and 23 abstentions. In an indication of weakening support for Israel, the resolution passed by a wider margin than a similar U.N. measure in October, which got 121 votes in favour, 14 against and 44 abstentions.

After pummeling north Gaza, Israel has expanded its attack to the south since a temporary truce collapsed on Dec. 1. Israeli tank shelling on Tuesday was focused on the centre of Khan Younis, southern Gaza’s main city, residents said.

In the south Gaza town of Rafah, which borders Egypt and where the Israeli army this month told civilians they would be safe, Gazans said the shelling was some of the heaviest in days. Health officials said 22 people including children were killed there.

Israel’s military said that over the past day it hit several posts that were used to fire rockets at its territory, raided a Hamas compound where it found some 250 rockets among other weapons and struck a weapons production factory.

Israel on Wednesday said eight more of its soldiers had been killed in Gaza fighting, taking the total to 114 since ground operations began on Oct. 20.

An elderly Palestinian, Tawfik Abu Breika, said his residential block in Khan Younis was hit without warning by an Israeli air strike that brought down several buildings and caused casualties.

“The world’s conscience is dead, no humanity or any kind of morals,” Breika told Reuters as neighbours sifted through rubble. “This is the third month that we are facing death and destruction.”

The Wall Street Journal and ABC reported that the Israeli military began pumping seawater into Hamas’ tunnel network, where the militant group is believed to be hiding fighters and munitions and basing hit-and-run street attacks on Israeli troops.

Biden said he had heard unconfirmed reports there were no hostages in the tunnels. Some hostages freed during a ceasefire reported they had been held in tunnels. The Israeli military said it was looking into the reports.

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