US raises criticism of Israel ahead of UNSC ceasefire meeting

US officials urge Israel to protect Gaza civilians but are unlikely to back calls for permanent truce.

A protest against Israel's war on Gaza in front of the White House.
Protesters demonstrate outside the White House, urging the US to call on Israel for a ceasefire in its war on Gaza. [Andrew Harnik/AP]

Senior United States officials have aimed rare levels of criticism at Israel’s conduct in its war on Gaza as the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) prepares to meet.

The council is expected to convene on Friday to discuss a resolution calling for a ceasefire in the two-month-long war. Despite Washington’s warnings to Israel, the US is thought unlikely to pass the resolution.

“It remains imperative that Israel put a premium on civilian protection,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at a news conference on Thursday, referring to Israel’s escalated offensive in Gaza. More than 17,000 people have been killed in the enclave and 1.8 million Palestinians been forced from their homes during the war with Hamas.

“There does remain a gap between … the intent to protect civilians and the actual results that we’re seeing on the ground,” Blinken said.

Speaking separately by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah, US President Joe Biden “emphasised the critical need to protect civilians and to separate the civilian population from Hamas, including through corridors that allow people to move safely from defined areas of hostilities”, the White House said.

However, on a call with his Israeli counterpart Yoav Gallant on Friday, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin once again offered his “enduring support for Israel’s right to defend itself from terrorism”, according to the White House.

Israel has said it is doing everything it can to get civilians out of harm’s way and is targeting only Hamas, the armed group that governs the Gaza Strip.

But UN officials and rights groups have repeatedly said there is no safe place for civilians in the besieged enclave and criticised Israel’s ongoing assault as a “genocide”.

Calls for ceasefire grow

The UNSC is expected to meet on Friday morning in New York to vote on a resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. The document was drafted by the United Arab Emirates, which is a temporary member of the 15-nation council, the UN’s highest decision-making body.

The renewed push for a ceasefire was made by Arab states after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres invoked Article 99 of the UN Charter on Wednesday. The move formally warns the Security Council of a global threat from the war. Guterres, who has repeatedly called for a humanitarian ceasefire, is due to brief the council.

To be adopted, a resolution needs at least nine votes in favour and no vetoes by the council’s five permanent members – the US, Russia, China, France and Britain.

The US, Israel’s main backer, which continues to send billions of dollars of military aid to the country, has repeatedly opposed a ceasefire and vetoed previous UN resolutions calling for a pause in the fighting.

(Al Jazeera)

Human rights group Amnesty International urged the US not to block the resolution.

By invoking Article 99, Guterres “is ringing an alarm bell that must be heeded,” Amnesty Secretary General Agnes Callamard said on Thursday.

“[Guterres is] conveying to the world, in the strongest terms, deep concern over the catastrophic and likely irreversible impact of Israel’s relentless bombardment of the occupied Gaza Strip. Bloodshed and suffering have reached unparalleled intensity and scale,” she added.

‘Enabled a monster’

But critics are sceptical that the invocation of Article 99 will yield results when the Security Council meets.

“The US will veto any resolution calling for a ceasefire, no matter how carefully it’s worded,” Ian Wilson, a lecturer in politics and security studies at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia, told Al Jazeera.

“The US has vetoed 46 resolutions, including those condemning Israel’s illegal annexation of the Golan Heights. They are utterly contemptuous of the rules-based order they claim to espouse. The US always vetoes anything that seeks to constrain Israel.”

Ahmed Bedier, president of the civil society group United Voices for America, said the US has put itself “in a difficult situation” by emboldening Israel’s hardline prime minister.

“The Biden administration at the beginning of this gave full support, full throttle support for the Netanyahu government, what they’re doing, and now they’re trying to rein it in,” he said. “In a way, they enabled a monster and they can’t pull them back.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies