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United Nations General Assembly votes to demand immediate ceasefire in Gaza

The United Nations General Assembly has voted to demand an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in war-torn Gaza, in a rebuke to the United States which has repeatedly blocked ceasefire calls in the UN’s Security Council.

A majority of 153 nations voted for the ceasefire resolution in the General Assembly’s emergency special session Tuesday, while 10 voted against and 23 abstained.

Tuesday’s brief resolution calls for a ceasefire, for all parties to comply with international law, and for humanitarian access to hostages as well as their “immediate and unconditional” release. It notably contains stronger language than an October vote in the assembly that had called for a “sustained humanitarian truce.”

The vote, hailed as “historic” by Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour, comes as the war between Israel and Hamas enters its third month, and as medics and aid groups sound alarm bells on the humanitarian situation in besieged Gaza. More than 18,000 people have been killed in the enclave since fighting broke out, the Hamas-controlled health ministry in the enclave said Monday.

Israel has said it will not stop its military campaign until it eradicates Palestinian group Hamas, which controls Gaza, following Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel which killed 1,200 people and saw around 240 kidnapped, according to Israeli authorities. Over 100 hostages are thought to remain in captivity in Gaza.

Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan described the resolution as a “disgraceful” attempt to bind Israel’s hands, warning that “continuing Israel’s operation in Gaza is the only way any hostages will be released.”

Israel has rejected previous calls for a ceasefire, though it agreed to a seven-day truce for the release of Israeli hostages held in Gaza.

Israel along with the United States, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Austria, Czechia, Guatemala, Liberia, Micronesia and Nauru voted against Tuesday’s resolution.

While a General Assembly vote is politically significant and is seen as wielding moral weight, it is nonbinding, unlike a Security Council resolution. The United States last week vetoed a ceasefire resolution in the smaller Security Council, which had been approved by a majority of the powerful 15-member body.

‘One singular priority’

“We have one singular priority – only one – to save lives,” said General Assembly President Dennis Francis, opening the emergency session on Tuesday afternoon, warning that civilians in Gaza have nowhere safe to shelter from the fighting and aerial bombardment.

“Even war has rules, and it is imperative that we prevent any deviation from these principles and values – the validity of which resides in their universal application,” he said.

With vital infrastructure blasted to rubble and limited access to water, medicine and food, more Gaza civilians may end up dying of diseases than from bombs and missiles, UN officials have warned. Hunger is a growing issue in the enclave.

Addressing the assembly, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said that Washington does “agree that the humanitarian situation in Gaza is dire…and that civilians must be protected with international humanitarian law,” but urged nations to support an amendment to the resolution condemning Hamas, which did not pass.

”A ceasefire right now would be temporary at best, and dangerous at worst,” she said. “Dangerous to Israelis, who would be subject to relentless attacks, and also dangerous to Palestinians who deserve the chance to build a better future for themselves free from a group that hides behind innocent civilians.”

In a break with its southern neighbor, Canada cast its vote in support of the resolution, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issuing a joint statement with the leaders of Australia and New Zealand in support of “urgent international efforts towards a sustainable ceasefire.”

South Africa’s representative Mathu Joyini meanwhile invoked her country’s “own painful past experience of a system of apartheid” to impress on fellow states the need to “take action in accordance with international law.”

Tuesday’s vote, she said, “presents an opportunity for us to illustrate that the organization that was created to give hope for peace is not tone-deaf to the suffering of the most vulnerable.”

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