US vetoes resolution calling for ceasefire in Gaza and backed by majority of Security Council

US Deputy Ambassador to the UN Robert Wood raises his hand during a United Nations Security Council after the vote about a ceasefire in Gaza at UN headquarters in New York. (AFP)
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Updated 09 December 2023
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US vetoes resolution calling for ceasefire in Gaza and backed by majority of Security Council

  • Washington’s decision to block the resolution comes amid unprecedented international calls to end the violence and ease the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza
  • The US uses its veto power despite last-gasp talks between Arab ministers and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and a heartfelt plea from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

NEW YORK CITY: The US on Friday blocked international calls for the UN Security Council to take action on the situation in Gaza by demanding a ceasefire. It vetoed a resolution for which 13 of the other 14 council members voted in favor, while the UK abstained.
Washington’s veto came amid unprecedented international calls to end the violence in Gaza, including a dramatic appeal by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who this week urged the council to demand a humanitarian ceasefire. Invoking the rarely used Article 99, one of the few powers granted to a secretary-general under the UN charter, he said a ceasefire is needed to help avert a humanitarian catastrophe that could have “potentially irreversible implications for Palestinians as a whole, and for peace and security in the region.”
Article 99 gives the secretary-general the power to bring to the attention of the Security Council “any matter which, in his opinion, may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.”
Friday’s vote on the draft resolution, submitted by the UAE on behalf of the Arab Group of nations at the UN, also came as Arab ministers, led by Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan, met Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington in what appeared to be a last-ditch effort to convince Washington not to use its veto — a power it has as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council alongside the UK, Russia, France and China — to block adoption of the resolution.
The US veto came as no surprise, as the alternate permanent representative of the US to the UN, Robert Wood, told an earlier meeting of the council on Friday morning that his country did not support the calls for an immediate ceasefire, on the grounds that “this would only plant the seeds for the next war, because Hamas has no desire to see a durable peace, to see a two-state solution.”
It was the refusal of Hamas to release the young women it continues to hold hostage that resulted in the breakdown of the previous truce, he added, as he repeated the US position that “this council’s failure to condemn Hamas for its Oct. 7. terrorist attacks, including its acts of sexual violence and other unthinkable evils, is a serious moral failure.”
The resolution blocked on Friday called for “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire” in Gaza and “the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, as well as ensuring humanitarian access.”
It expressed “grave concern over the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and the suffering of the Palestinian civilian population” and emphasized that “the Palestinian and Israeli civilian populations must be protected in accordance with international humanitarian law.”
Also on Friday morning, Guterres repeated his call for council members “to spare no effort to push for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, for the protection of civilians, and for the urgent delivery of lifesaving aid.” He added that the “eyes of the world — and the eyes of history — are watching. Time to act.”
The UN chief has warned there is a high risk of a total collapse of the humanitarian support system in Gaza, which could potentially result in “a complete breakdown of public order and increased pressure for mass displacement into Egypt.” He spoke of his fears that this could have devastating repercussions for the security of the entire region.
Guterres described apocalyptic scenes in Gaza. He said attacks by air, land and sea are so intense and widespread that “they have reportedly hit 339 education facilities, 26 hospitals, 56 healthcare facilities, 88 mosques and three churches.
“Over 60 percent of Gaza’s housing has reportedly been destroyed or damaged — some 300,000 houses and apartments. Some 85 percent of the population have been forced from their homes.”
Under such circumstances, the delivery of humanitarian aid “has become impossible,” he added, and the “people of Gaza are being told to move like human pinballs, ricocheting between ever- smaller slivers of the south without any of the basics for survival.”
Nowhere in Gaza is safe now, Guterres said.
“At least 88 UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) shelters have been hit, killing over 270 people and injuring over 900. Conditions in shelters are overcrowded and unsanitary. People nurse open wounds. Hundreds of people stand in line for hours to use one shower or toilet.”
He also warned of the “serious risk” of starvation and famine. According to the World Food Programme, 97 percent of households in Gaza do not have enough to eat and the agency’s own food supplies are running out.
Guterres also highlighted the collapse of the healthcare system in Gaza at a time when needs continue to rise, and the deaths of at least 286 health workers since the war began.
“Hospitals have suffered heavy bombardment,” he said. “Just 14 out of 36 are still functioning. Of these, three are providing basic first aid, while the others are delivering partial services.
“The unsanitary conditions in shelters and severe shortages of food and water are leading to increases in respiratory infections, scabies, jaundice and diarrhea.
“Everything I have just described represents an unprecedented situation that led to my unprecedented decision to invoke Article 99, urging the members of the Security Council to press to avert a humanitarian catastrophe, and appealing for a humanitarian ceasefire to be declared.”
Ahead of the vote, Riyad Mansour, the permanent observer of Palestine to the UN, asked council members: “Are we supposed to pretend we don’t know (Israel’s) objective is the ethnic cleansing of the Gaza Strip?
“If you are against the destruction and displacement of the Palestinian people, you have to be in favor of an immediate ceasefire.
“Regardless of how good your intentions are, how genuine your efforts are, this is the moment of truth. This war is part of the assault to end the Palestinian people as a nation and to destroy the question of Palestine. If you do not share this objective, you must stand against the war.”
Israel’s permanent representative to the UN, Gilad Erdan, told council members: “Calling for a ceasefire sends a clear message that Hamas is forgiven for their deliberate atrocities.
“Hamas exploits Gazans as human shields in hopes that civilian casualties will rise and the UN will call for a ceasefire. Do we want to be the actors in this show that Hamas has carefully crafted?”
Blaming Hamas for the humanitarian situation in Gaza, Erdan said: “If this council wants to see a ceasefire, start by demanding it from Hamas, the party that broke the past two.”
The UAE’s deputy permanent representative to the UN, Mohammed Abushahab, told the council that the scale of the destruction in Gaza surpasses even the bombing of Dresden in 1945, during the Second World War.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the deliberate targeting of medical facilities, equipment and personnel,” he said.
China’s permanent representative to UN, Zhang Jun, whose country co-sponsored the Emirati resolution, said that it “reflects the universal core of the international community and represents the right direction for the restoration of peace.”
He added: “This human catastrophe is too great for words to describe … any waiting or delay means more death. At this juncture, only a ceasefire can avoid the headache of regional conflagration.”

 


3 men snared in right-wing extremism probe charged in London court with prepping for terrorism

Updated 27 February 2024
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3 men snared in right-wing extremism probe charged in London court with prepping for terrorism

  • Men had manufactured an FGC-9 semi-automatic gun, had instructions on assembling a 3D-printed firearm and identified an Islamic education center in Leeds as a possible target
  • Christopher Ringrose, 33, and Brogan Stewart and Marco Pitzettu, both 24, were held in custody after their appearances by video at Westminster Magistrates’ Court

LONDON: Three men arrested in an investigation into right-wing extremism were charged Tuesday in a London court with preparing to commit a terrorist act, authorities said.
They were arrested on Feb. 21, Counter Terrorism Policing North East said.
Prosecutors said the men had joined extreme right-wing online chat forums, had right-wing text messages and distributed information on guns and ammunition.
The men had manufactured an FGC-9 semi-automatic gun, had instructions on assembling a 3D-printed firearm and identified an Islamic education center in Leeds as a possible target.
Christopher Ringrose, 33, and Brogan Stewart and Marco Pitzettu, both 24, were held in custody after their appearances by video at Westminster Magistrates’ Court and ordered to return to the Central Criminal Court on March 15. They did not enter pleas.


Poland mulls wider ban on Ukrainian food imports as farmers warn of more protests

Updated 27 February 2024
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Poland mulls wider ban on Ukrainian food imports as farmers warn of more protests

  • Tusk made the remarks during a visit to Prague as thousands of Polish farmers took to the streets of Warsaw, escalating a protest against food imports from Ukraine and EU green rules
  • Poland last year extended a ban on Ukrainian grain imports

WARSAW: Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on Tuesday he could not rule out widening a national ban on imports of Ukrainian grains to other products if the European Union does not act to protect the bloc’s markets.
Tusk made the remarks during a visit to Prague as thousands of Polish farmers took to the streets of Warsaw, carrying the national flag and blowing handheld horns, escalating a protest against food imports from Ukraine and EU green rules.
Farmers across Europe have been protesting for weeks against constraints placed on them by the EU’s “Green Deal” regulations meant to tackle climate change, as well as rising costs and what they say is unfair competition from outside the EU, particularly Ukraine.
The EU in 2022 waived duties on Ukrainian food imports following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Poland last year extended a ban on Ukrainian grain imports.
“We are talking about it with the Ukrainian side — that it will be necessary to expand the embargo to other products if the European Union does not find more effective ways to protect the European and Polish markets,” Tusk said on Tuesday.
Polish Agriculture Minister Czeslaw Siekierski said in a Tuesday evening interview on Polsat News TV that further talks with Ukraine on solutions were planned for Wednesday and various possibilities were being considered.
“Tomorrow we will also talk about it with Ukraine’s minister of economy, who will be a guest at the Ministry of Development and New Technologies,” he said, adding that he would be participating.
He said Polish farmers were invited to the agriculture ministry for talks on Thursday.
Speaking after Siekierski on Polsat News, protest organizer Szczepan Wojcik said the invitation was welcome, but warned of more protests if no progress was made during the next few days.
“Further protests in Warsaw have already been announced for March 6. Farmers are already organizing on the roads, and border crossings will continue to be blocked,” he said.
Asked about the possibility of further escalation, Wojcik said, “The farmers are desperate. ... The ball is in the government’s court.”
Earlier in the day, Tusk said the EU had to solve the problems created by its decision to open its borders to imports of Ukrainian food products.
He added that Poland was ready to co-finance purchases of Polish, European and Ukrainian food and agricultural products to be sent as humanitarian aid to famine-stricken countries, and that “Europe should certainly find funds for this.”
Back home, farmers rallied in central Warsaw before marching toward parliament and then Tusk’s office. A city hall official cited by PAP state news agency put the number of protesters around 10,000.
“We are protesting because we want the ‘green deal’ to be lifted, as it will lead our farms to bankruptcy with its costs...that are not comparable to what we harvest and to what we are paid,” said Kamil Wojciechowski, 31, a farmer from Izbica Kujawska in central Poland.
“What we’re paid for our work, it has decreased because of the influx of grain from Ukraine and this is our second demand — to block the influx of grain from Ukraine,” he said.
The farmers began a series of protests throughout the country earlier this month, which included a near-total blockade of all Ukrainian border crossings, as well as disruptions at ports and on roads nationwide.
“We won’t give up. We have no choice. Our farms will go bankrupt, we will lose our livelihoods,” Pawel Walkowiak, 47, a corn and wheat producer from Konarzewo in western Poland, said.
The city hall official said Tuesday’s protest in Warsaw took place without major incidents.


Strike by Athens taxi drivers coincides with nationwide public sector stoppage

Updated 27 February 2024
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Strike by Athens taxi drivers coincides with nationwide public sector stoppage

ATHENS: Taxi drivers in the Greek capital began a 48-hour strike Tuesday, with the second day timed to coincide with a nationwide strike by public and some private sector workers that is expected to disrupt public transport, ground some flights and leave ferries tied up in port.

More than 200 taxis drove through the center of Athens as part of a demonstration on the first day of the walkout, called by the capital’s main taxi union over a series of demands, including a reduction in taxes, access to bus lanes and stricter regulation on ride-sharing apps.

New taxes imposed on the self-employed in Greece have hammered the taxi industry, said Georgios Voilis, a taxi driver and union member. The tax burden “is a financial debasement, a tombstone,” for taxis, he said.

The second day of the taxi strike coincides with a nationwide strike called by Greece’s main public sector umbrella union to mark the first anniversary of the country’s deadliest rail disaster. Nearly 60 people were killed and dozens injured just before midnight on Feb. 28, 2023, when a passenger train collided head-on with a freight train after the two had mistakenly been put on the same track heading in opposite directions.

“One year (has passed) and those responsible for the tragedy have still not answered for their criminal actions that led 57 of our compatriots …. to their deaths,” the union, known by its Greek acronym ADEDY, said in its announcement of the strike.

ADEDY is also calling for a 10 percent increase in public sector salaries to tackle the rising cost of living and inflation, collective wage agreements and a series of tax breaks.

Wednesday’s strike is expected to disrupt all public transport in the Greek capital and leave ferries to and from the islands tied up in ports. The country’s air traffic controllers’ union has also announced its participation, which is expected to lead to the grounding of numerous flights.

Medical staff in public hospitals and teachers in public schools have said they will participate in the walkout, while staff at banks are also to strike for the day.


US names new special envoy to Sudan in push to end war

Updated 27 February 2024
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US names new special envoy to Sudan in push to end war

WASHINGTON: The US will appoint a new special envoy for Sudan as Washington seeks to bring an end to a war that has wrecked parts of the country and killed tens of thousands.

Former diplomat and US member of Congress Tom Perriello will assume the special envoy role, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement as the US seeks to bring increased focus to the conflict after the failure of talks so far.

Perriello said he will build on efforts of partners across Africa and the Middle East to bring an end to the war, a humanitarian crisis and atrocities.

“This appointment reflects the urgency and importance President Biden and Secretary Blinken have placed on ending this war, putting a stop to rampant atrocities against civilians, and preventing an already horrific humanitarian situation from becoming a catastrophic famine,” Perriello said.

The US Ambassador to Sudan John Godfrey has left his role, Blinken said in the statement.

Daniel Rubinstein will serve as interim charge d’affaires as director of the Office of Sudan Affairs, Blinken said. He will be based in Ethiopia.

War broke out in Sudan last April over disputes about the powers of the army and the Rapid Support Forces under an internationally-backed plan for a political transition toward civilian rule and elections.

The army and the RSF had shared power with civilians after the fall of former leader Omar Bashir in a popular uprising in 2019, before staging a coup two years later.

The fighting has wrecked parts of Sudan including the capital Khartoum, killed more than 13,000 people according to UN estimates, drawn warnings of famine, and created an internal displacement crisis.

The Rapid Support Forces are accused by the US of participating in an ethnic cleansing campaign in West Darfur, along with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The army, which has carried out a widespread airstrike campaign, is also accused of war crimes by the US.

Perriello previously served as special envoy for the Great Lakes region of Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and as a US representative from Virginia.

Rubinstein recently led the US delegation at talks on Sudan in the Saudi city of Jeddah. Neither side maintained commitments made in the talks. The US military evacuated American government personnel from Khartoum in April last year and suspended operations at its embassy there after fighting between Sudan’s rival commanders broke out.


Pre-election stress tests cause Internet outages in Russia -lawmaker

Updated 27 February 2024
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Pre-election stress tests cause Internet outages in Russia -lawmaker

  • Andrei Svintsov, a deputy head of the State Duma parliamentary committee on information
  • “Our special services are checking the operability of all systems inside Russia related to the Internet and cybersecurity infrastructure”

MOSCOW: Telegram, the most popular messaging app used in Russia, suffered a temporary outage on Tuesday as security services conducted stress tests on online resources to eliminate possible vulnerabilities, a lawmaker said.
President Vladimir Putin, Russia’s paramount leader for over 20 years, is expected to easily win another six-year term in power at next month’s election.
Telegram and other sites were affected, while some previously blocked social media apps including Instagram and Facebook suddenly became available in Russia.
The monitoring center for Russia’s public communications network said on Tuesday its specialists had recorded a “massive failure” of Telegram, without providing a reason. Telegram did not reply to a request for comment.
“The work of Telegram messenger and a number of other services in Russia is already being restored,” Russia’s digital ministry said in a statement, adding that there had also been failures of the app outside Russia.
“We are working to establish the cause of the incident,” it said. “As for Russian telecom operators, their networks are operating normally.”
But Andrei Svintsov, a deputy head of the State Duma parliamentary committee on information policy told gazeta.ru that the outages were due to pre-election work.
“These outages are due to the fact that on the eve of the presidential election, our special services are checking the operability of all systems inside Russia related to the Internet and cybersecurity infrastructure,” gazeta.ru quoted Svintsov as saying.
“Banned sites, banned resources, banned social networks will have access restricted once again,” Svintsov added.
Reuters correspondents in Moscow noted outages of Telegram, YouTube and Vkontakte for around 90 minutes.
Soon after the outage, several previously blocked social media apps including Instagram and Facebook suddenly became available in Russia on Tuesday, according to Reuters reporters in Moscow.
Reuters reporters were able to browse Instagram without requiring a virtual private network (VPN) for the first time since blocks were imposed shortly after Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in February 2022.
Communications regulator Roskomnadzor has moved to block some foreign tech companies including Meta Platforms’ Facebook and Instagram.
Moscow has long sought to improve its domestic Internet infrastructure, or Runet, even disconnecting itself from the global Internet for tests.
Anton Gorelkin, another member of the same parliamentary committee as Svintsov, said it was unclear what had caused the Telegram outages, but that immediately blaming the Russian state was a mistake, noting “conspiracy theories” that Russia was trying to block foreign resources prior to the election.
“There have been, and will be, such incidents for a variety of reasons: from human error to hacker attack,” he said.
“Much more important is how long it takes to eliminate the failure; the scale of damage to the Russian economy depends on this.”