NEW YORK (Reuters): The United States kept up pressure on Israel to do more to protect Palestinian civilians during a fierce offensive against Hamas militants across Gaza, even as Washington vetoed a U.N. Security Council demand for an immediate ceasefire.
Fighting escalated and the Palestinian death toll rose on Friday, with Israel pounding the enclave from north to south in an expanded phase of the two-month-old war against the Islamist group Hamas.
Decrying a “spiralling humanitarian nightmare”, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres declared that nowhere in Gaza was safe for civilians, hours before the U.S. vetoed a Security Council resolution backed by the vast majority of its members calling for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.
The vote left Washington diplomatically isolated on the 15-member council. Thirteen members voted in favor of the draft resolution put forward by the United Arab Emirates, while Britain abstained.
Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Robert Wood told the council: “We do not support this resolution’s call for an unsustainable ceasefire that will only plant the seeds for the next war.”
The United States and Israel oppose a ceasefire, saying it would only benefit Hamas, which Israel has vowed to annihilate in response to the militants’ deadly Oct. 7 cross-border rampage.
Washington instead supports “pauses” like the seven-day halt in fighting that saw Hamas release some hostages and the humanitarian aid flow increase. The deal broke down on Dec. 1.
Palestinian U.N. envoy Riyad Mansour told the council the vote means that “millions of Palestinian lives hang in the balance.”
Ezzat El-Reshiq, a member of Hamas’ political bureau, condemned the U.S. veto as “inhumane.”
Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan said in a statement: “A ceasefire will be possible only with the return of all the hostages and the destruction of Hamas.”
In Washington, the White House on Friday said more could be done by Israel to reduce civilian casualties and the U.S. shared international concerns about the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
“We certainly all recognize more can be done to try to reduce civilian casualties,” White House national security council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken sharpened Washington’s language, saying it was imperative that Israel took steps to safeguard Gaza’s civilian population.
“And there does remain a gap between…the intent to protect civilians and the actual results that we’re seeing on the ground,” he told a press conference.