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Tensions at the United Nations continue as Gaza faces 'very critical' hours

Russia's United Nations Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya raises his hand to vote against a U.S. resolution over the conflict between Israel and Hamas, which was vetoed in the U.N. Security Council, on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023.
Bebeto Matthews
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AP
Russia's United Nations Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya raises his hand to vote against a U.S. resolution over the conflict between Israel and Hamas, which was vetoed in the U.N. Security Council, on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023.

Updated October 25, 2023 at 7:24 PM ET

The U.N. Security Council failed to pass a resolution on the Israel-Hamas war, underscoring the tension and division within the council since the conflict broke out.

Russia and China vetoed a U.S. resolution that condemned the Oct. 7 attacks, called for the release of hostages and for humanitarian aid for Gaza.

The resolution would have also supported Israel's right to defend itself. The vote was 10 in favor, three against and two abstentions.

Gilad Erdan, Israel's U.N. ambassador, condemned Russia and China after the vote.

"Those who have voted against the U.S.-led resolution have shown the world that this council is incapable of doing the most basic task of condemning ISIS like terrorists and cannot confirm the right to self-defense of the victim of these heinous crimes," he said.

A second, failed resolution proposed by Russia, co-sponsored by Sudan and Venezuela, introduced at the last minute, also failed when it didn't get the nine votes needed.

Last week, the U.S. vetoed a U.N. resolution calling for a "humanitarian pause" in Gaza. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield said she put forward what she called a more balanced text that condemns "the heinous terrorist attacks" by Hamas and reaffirms Israel's right to self-defense.

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen speaks during a Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters on Tuesday.
Seth Wenig / AP
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AP
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen speaks during a Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters on Tuesday.

Guterres says his comments were misrepresented

Israeli officials are already furious with the U.N. after comments by Secretary-General António Guterres earlier this week.

Guterres on Wednesday said he is "shocked" by what he called the misrepresentation of comments he made that offended Israeli leaders and sparked headlines worldwide.

The row started on Tuesday, during the U.N. Security Council meeting in New York that played out against the backdrop of deepening misery in Gaza.

During his opening remarks, Guterres said it was important "to also recognize the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum. The Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation." But he also said those grievances could not justify the "appalling" attacks.

In response, Erdan called for Guterres' resignation, saying he is "not fit to lead the U.N." and called for his country to "reassess" its relations with the United Nations.

Erdan told Israeli media that the country would deny a visa to a U.N. humanitarian coordinator, saying it was time the body learned "a lesson."

Israel's foreign minister later canceled a meeting with Guterres, accusing him of victim blaming.

Addressing the media on Wednesday, Guterres said his comments had been taken "as if I was justifying acts of terror by Hamas," when in fact he was saying the opposite.

"I spoke of the grievances of the Palestinian people but I also stated that cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas," he stressed, adding "I believe it is necessary to the record straight — especially out of respect for the victims and their families."

In Guterres' speech Tuesday, he pleaded with other countries to step up humanitarian aid and to help ensure the conflict doesn't spread to other countries.

Death toll continues to climb

His pleas came as staggering numbers emerged: thousands dead, even more injured.

Roughly 1.4 million people — 60% of Gaza's population — had left their homes, but remained trapped in the territory. Relief sites overflowed; at one, 400 people shared a single toilet. Hospitals designed for hundreds of patients found themselves treating thousands.

The World Health Organization said Wednesday that Gaza's main hospital would stop "lifesaving operations" in the evening because of fuel shortages.

The WHO saidTuesday that doctors had been performing surgeries without anesthesia or other basic surgical supplies.

The U.N. Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA, said Wednesday that that three of its workers were killed by Israeli strikes in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total number of dead staff members to 38.

Israeli officials say there are still 220 hostages being held in Gaza.

On Tuesday, the Israeli military dropped leaflets on Gaza urging Palestinians to contact them with information about the hostages, and promising a financial reward along with "maximum effort in providing security for you and your home."

World leaders and humanitarian groups have called on Hamas to release the remaining hostages unconditionally.

Biden reiterates Israel's right to defend itself, but urges caution

President Biden on Wednesday urged Israel to embrace its responsibility to avoid civilian casualties in Gaza, but disputed reports that he demanded the country delay its ground offensive.

"What I have indicated to [Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu] is that if that's possible to get these folks out safely, that's what he should do," Biden said. "It's their decision, but I did not demand it."

It's still unclear when Israel will launch its ground invasion in Gaza, but the Israeli military is "ready and determined" for action, military spokesperson Daniel Hagari told Reuters on Tuesday.

During a joint news conference with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at the White House, Biden also reiterated the need to work towards a two-state solution, saying Israelis and Palestinians "equally deserve to live side-by-side in safety, dignity and peace."

But Biden said there is "no going back" to the status quo of Oct. 6, the day before Hamas launched its surprise attack.

"It means a concentrated effort from all the parties — Israelis, Palestinians, regional partners, global leaders — to put us on a path towards peace," Biden said.

NPR's Michele Kelemen and Emily Olson contributed reporting.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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