NEW YORK: The United States on Thursday (May 20) defended its efforts to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants after Washington found itself isolated at the United Nations over its opposition to any Security Council action.
"We have not been silent," US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the 193-member UN General Assembly as it met to discuss the violence. "In fact, I don't believe that there's any country working more urgently and more fervently toward peace."
The United States has repeatedly objected to a UN Security Council statement since fighting erupted 11 days ago between Israel and Hamas militants and other groups in Gaza. The United States then expressed opposition on Wednesday to a French push for a council resolution on the conflict.
When US President Joe Biden spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, he said the United States believes "Israel is now in a position to begin winding down the conflict and we expect a significant de-escalation to begin", Thomas-Greenfield said.
Israel and the two main Palestinian armed groups in Gaza, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, announced a ceasefire on Thursday.
The United States has traditionally shielded its ally Israel at the United Nations.
The French draft text demands an immediate cessation of hostilities and condemns "the indiscriminate firing of rockets against civilian areas", without laying blame. It urges protection of civilians and revival of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians with the aim of creating two states.
Despite the US stance on a resolution, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said his country would forge ahead in the hope that the council could unanimously adopt a resolution.
"It is vital that the cessation of hostilities takes place and that humanitarian aid is organised very quickly for Gaza," he told reporters in Dublin.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Israel to allow rapid and unhindered aid access and told the General Assembly he would launch a full humanitarian appeal for funding as soon as possible.
"If there is a hell on earth, it is the lives of children in Gaza today," Guterres said.
"The hostilities have caused serious damage to vital civilian infrastructure in Gaza, including roads and electricity lines, contributing to a humanitarian emergency. Crossings into Gaza have been closed and power shortages are affecting water supplies," Guterres added.
Hundreds of buildings and homes have been destroyed or damaged, Guterres said, and airstrikes have damaged several hospitals. About 50,000 people were seeking shelter in UN schools, mosques and other places with little access to water, food, hygiene or health services, Guterres added.
"The needs in Gaza in particular are immense," Thomas-Greenfield said. "We hope the international community will step up to meet the humanitarian needs on the ground."