US submits UN resolution calling for immediate ceasefire in Gaza, says Blinken

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The United States has submitted a UN resolution that calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza in exchange for the return of hostages held by Hamas, secretary of state Antony Blinken has said.

It comes just days after a UN report warned that widespread famine was “imminent” in northern Gaza, and a “major acceleration of death” would follow if an immediate ceasefire is not reached.

Following weeks of increasing pressure from its allies at home and abroad over the humanitarian crisis caused by the war, Mr Blinken said in an interview that the US had drafted a security council resolution “that’s before the United Nations Security Council that does call for an immediate ceasefire tied to the release of hostages, and we hope very much that countries will support that”.

The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken as he departs Jeddah for Cairo on 21 March 2024 (AP)
The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken as he departs Jeddah for Cairo on 21 March 2024 (AP)

He added that a halt in the fighting “would bring immediate relief to so many people who are suffering in Gaza” and allow “a much greater expansion of humanitarian assistance getting to them”.

The US blocked a similar UN resolution submitted by Arab states that called for an immediate ceasefire a little more than a month ago, and put forward an alternative one that called for a temporary ceasefire “as soon as practicable”.

The secretary of state is currently on his sixth visit to the Middle East since Hamas killed some 1,200 people and took more than 200 hostage in a surprise attack on 7 October in southern Israel. Israel’s offensive in response has killed more than 31,000 people in Gaza, according to Palestinian health officials, who told The Independent there have been at least 27 reported deaths due to starvation and dehydration, including 23 children.

After lending his administration’s full political and material support for Israel’s war in Gaza for months, president Joe Biden has come under increasing pressure from the international community and from members of his party to convince Israel to halt its offensive as civilian casualties reached tens of thousands.

Mr Biden faces a tough reelection battle against former president Donald Trump later this year. His prospects are likely to be harmed by a nationwide campaign led by Arab American groups to urge voters not to support Mr Biden’s reelection in response to his support for Israel’s war.

In recent weeks, the president has publicly urged Israeli leaders to do more to protect civilians and address Gaza’s humanitarian crisis. He has also expressed reservations over Israel’s plan to invade the city of Rafah, where more than one million Palestinians are now sheltering after being displaced by bombing elsewhere. However, the president has not shown any willingness to leverage massive US aid to Israel to pressure its ally.

Instead, the Biden administration has quietly approved and delivered more than 100 weapons deliveries to Israel since 7 October, The Washington Post reported – sales that were not announced publicly. The White House also bypassed Congress twice to send hundreds of millions of dollars of tank shells and ammunition.

Meanwhile, the US has been unable to persuade Israel to allow sufficient aid deliveries into Gaza on the ground. That led to the US launching air drops of aid into the strip, and a plan to build a port on Gaza’s coast to facilitate further aid deliveries. Aid experts said those measures would be insufficient to prevent a famine.

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), whose assessments are relied on by UN agencies, said this week that nearly three-quarters of people in parts of northern Gaza were now afflicted by the most severe level of food shortage, far exceeding the 20 per cent famine threshold.

Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary general, called the IPC report an “appalling indictment” of conditions on the ground.

“This is an entirely man-made disaster and the report makes clear that it can be halted,” he told reporters at the UN headquarters in New York, calling on Israel to ensure access to humanitarian goods throughout Gaza.

He joined a chorus of condemnation from international diplomats, aid organisations and rights groups who said that Israel was wielding hunger as a weapon, which is a war crime.

“Starvation is used as a weapon of war. Israel is provoking famine,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell at the opening of a conference on humanitarian aid for Gaza in Brussels on Monday.

The Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz hit out at such accusations and said specifically that Mr Borrell should “stop attacking Israel and recognise our right to self-defence against Hamas’ crimes”. Israel has allowed “extensive humanitarian aid into Gaza by land, air, and sea for anyone willing to help”, Mr Katz claimed on X/Twitter.

Mr Blinken is due to meet with foreign ministers from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan, as he pushes for a new ceasefire agreement in Gaza between Israel and Hamas.

He said in the same interview with the Saudi media outlet Al-Hadath that the “gaps are narrowing” between Israel and Hamas in their negotiations for a ceasefire, and that “an agreement is very much possible”.

The state department did not respond to a request for comment from The Independent.

But on the ground, fighting has intensified in recent days around the Al-Shifa Hospital in northern Gaza. Al-Shifa is the only partially working hospital in the north and has been the scene of intense clashes over the last four days. Residents told Reuters that they had seen buildings inside the complex in flames.

With additional reporting from Bel Trew