Israel pounds Gaza as US vetoes UN truce resolution

AFP , Wednesday 21 Feb 2024

Israel kept up its deadly bombardment of war-torn Gaza as Washington vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that called for a ceasefire in the Palestinian territory.

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A picture taken in Gaza City shows debris from destroyed buildings and smoke billowing in the background during Israeli bombardment on February 2024.AFP

 

Global powers trying to navigate a way out of the spiraling crisis have so far come up short, and mediation efforts have so far failed to secure a truce to halt the fighting.

Adding to Gaza's woes, the UN's food agency said Tuesday that it had to stop desperately-needed deliveries to the north of the territory after facing "complete chaos and violence" there -- a decision condemned by Hamas.

The World Food Programme had only just resumed deliveries Sunday but said its convoy was met with gunfire, violence, and looting, while a truck driver was beaten.

"We are shocked about this decision by the World Food Programme to suspend the delivery of food aid in northern Gaza, which means a death sentence and death for three-quarters of a million people," Hamas  said Tuesday night.

Calling on the agency to "immediately reverse its disastrous decision", it said, "We hold the United Nations and the international community responsible".

Since the start of the war, Gaza has been plunged into a food crisis, with outside aid severely restricted.

The UN has repeatedly sounded the alarm over the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, warning that food shortages could lead to an "explosion" of preventable child deaths.

More than four months of relentless Israeli bombardment have flattened much of the coastal territory, pushing 2.2 million people to the brink of famine and displacing three-quarters of the population, according to UN estimates.

"We can't take it anymore. We do not have flour, we don't even know where to go in this cold weather," said Ahmad, a resident of Gaza City, where streets are strewn with rubble from destroyed buildings and garbage.

"We demand a ceasefire. We want to live," he said.

Ceasefire veto 

But in New York, Washington vetoed a UN Security Council resolution drafted by Algeria, which demanded an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and the "unconditional" release of all captives.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Washington's ambassador to the UN, called the vote "wishful and irresponsible" as it could put negotiations to free captives in Gaza "in jeopardy".

The veto provoked criticism from countries including China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and even close US allies France and Slovenia.

Hamas said the US veto equaled "a green light for the occupation to commit more massacres".

As world powers voted, Israeli strikes pounded Gaza early Wednesday as fighting on the ground raged on, leaving 103 people dead, according to the Palestinian health ministry in the territory.

Witnesses reported heavy fire in areas around Gaza, including the south of the territory's main city Khan Yunis, and Rafah near the Egyptian border, where around 1.4 million displaced Palestinians have sought shelter.

 'Graveyard' 

Rafah, Gaza's last city to face a ground invasion by Israeli ground troops, is also the main entry point for desperately needed relief supplies via Egypt.

Qatar, which has played a key role in mediation efforts between Hamas and Israel, said Tuesday that medicines sent into Gaza under a deal co-negotiated by France had reached the captives held by the Hamas, in exchange for a shipment of humanitarian aid.

But overall, negotiation efforts have failed to secure a long-term truce and despite international pressure, Israel has insisted that a ground operation Rafah is essential.

Leaders of global humanitarian groups said a ground offensive could turn Rafah into a "graveyard", warning of the "truly unimaginable" consequences of a full-scale assault.

Israel has said that unless all the captives are freed by the start of Ramadan on March 10 or 11, it will push on with its offensive during the Muslim holy month, including in Rafah.

On Wednesday, Brett McGurk, the White House coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa -- is expected to land in Egypt and then head to Israel Thursday to advance a captive deal.

McGurk will also reiterate US President Joe Biden's concerns about an Israeli operation in Rafah, US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh is already in Cairo for talks, the group said -- days after mediators warned that prospects for a truce had dimmed despite meetings with both Israeli and Hamas negotiators last week.

Adding to the international chorus of criticism of Israel, Colombian President Gustavo Petro on Tuesday accused Israel of committing a "genocide" of the Palestinians in Gaza -- echoing comments made by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

 

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