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UN Security Council demands ceasefire amid Israeli airstrikes

THE United Nations Security Council demanded an immediate ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas as Israeli forces carried out new airstrikes in Gaza and laid siege to two hospitals.

After vetoing three earlier draft council resolutions on the war in the Gaza Strip, Israel’s main ally, the United States, abstained in the vote following global pressure for a ceasefire to ease fears of famine after nearly six months of war.

Hamas welcomed the resolution, which also demanded the unconditional release of all hostages seized by the militant group in its deadly October 7 raid on southern Israel.

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said Israel could not stop its war on Hamas while there were still hostages in Gaza.

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“We will operate against Hamas everywhere – including in places where we have not yet been,” his ministry quoted him as saying ahead of talks in the U.S. “We have no moral right to stop the war while there are still hostages held in Gaza.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose relationship with Washington has been strained by the ferocity of the offensive, said the U.S. failure to veto the proposal was a “clear retreat” from its previous position.

He said he would not now follow through on plans to send a delegation to Washington to discuss a planned Israeli military operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah. The White House said Netanyahu’s decision was “disappointing”.

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The other 14 council members voted for the resolution demanding a ceasefire for the rest of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which ends in two weeks.

“The Palestinian people have suffered greatly. This bloodbath has continued for far too long. It is our obligation to put an end to this bloodbath, before it is too late,” Algeria’s U.N. Ambassador Amar Bendjama told the Security Council after the vote.

There has been one truce to date, lasting a week at the end of November.

At least 32,333 Palestinians have been killed and 74,694 injured in Israel’s offensive, including 107 Palestinians killed in the past 24 hours, the Gaza health ministry said on Monday.

Israel said 1,200 people were killed and 253 abducted in the Hamas-led raid on October 7.

Mourners react next to the bodies of Palestinians (not pictured) killed in an Israeli strike, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, March 25, 2024. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

AIRSTRIKES AND SIEGES

The Security Council resolution was approved as Israel continued to besiege two Gaza hospitals where it says Hamas cells are hiding following a new wave of Israeli airstrikes.

Rafah, the last refuge for about half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population following the arrival of many people displaced by fighting elsewhere, came under heavy fire in the latest Israeli attacks, witnesses said.

Palestinian medics said 30 people had been killed in the previous 24 hours in Rafah, where Israel is planning a ground assault to eliminate what it says are militant cells there.

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“The past 24 hours were one of the worst days since we moved into Rafah,” said Abu Khaled, a father of seven, who declined to give his full name for fear of reprisals.

READ:  Algeria pushes UN Security Council to demand Gaza ceasefire

Gaza medics said an Israeli airstrike had killed 18 Palestinians in one house in Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza, and the victims were buried on Monday.

Israeli forces were also besieging Al-Amal and Nasser hospitals in the southern city of Khan Younis on Monday, Palestinian witnesses said, a week after entering Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, the main hospital in the Strip.

Israel says hospitals in Gaza are used by the Palestinian militant group Hamas as bases. Hamas and medical staff deny this.

The Israeli military said it had detained 500 people affiliated with Hamas and the allied Islamic Jihad and located weapons in the Al Shifa area. Israeli forces also said 20 militants had been “eliminated” in fighting and airstrikes around Al Amal Hospital over the previous 24 hours.

Reuters has been unable to access Gaza’s contested hospital areas and verify accounts by either side.

CEASEFIRE EFFORTS

U.S.-backed mediation by Qatar and Egypt has so far failed to secure an agreement on a ceasefire and prisoner-hostage swap between Israel and Hamas.

As these efforts have stalled, international concern has mounted about the lack of aid reaching civilians in Gaza.

Concerns grew again on Monday after the Israeli government said it would stop working in Gaza with the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, which it said was perpetuating conflict.

“UNRWA are part of the problem, and we will now stop working with them. We are actively phasing out the use of UNRWA because they perpetuate the conflict rather than try and alleviate the conflict,” spokesperson David Mencer told reporters.

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He made his comments after UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini said Israel had informed the U.N. that it will no longer approve UNRWA food convoys to the north of Gaza.

Expressing his alarm about the humanitarian situation, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters while visiting Jordan: “It is absolutely essential to have a massive supply of humanitarian aid now.”

Israel denies blocking aid to Gaza and says delivery of aid once inside the territory is the responsibility of the U.N. and humanitarian agencies. Israel has also accused Hamas of stealing aid, a charge the group denies.

Aid organisations say security checks and the difficulty of moving through a war zone have hindered their operations in Gaza.

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By NIDAL AL-MUGHRABI

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