The United States for the third time on Tuesday vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, arguing that it would undercut ongoing U.S.-led negotiations for a six-week pause in fighting that would see Hamas release more than 100 remaining Israeli hostages in exchange for jailed Palestinians and additional humanitarian aid for civilians.

The resolution, introduced by Algeria on behalf of the Arab group of U.N. members, “would send the wrong message to Hamas,” U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said, and “would actually give them something that they have asked for without requiring them to do something in return.”

Instead, Thomas-Greenfield called on council members to support an alternative U.S. resolution, still in draft form, demanding that Israel — along with agreeing to a “temporary ceasefire as soon as practicable” to enable the release of hostages — refrain from a major ground offensive into Rafah and take “immediate measures” to allow the unimpeded flow of humanitarian aid into the enclave through additional land and sea entry points.

So far, U.S. appeals directly to Israel on all of those points have met with little positive response, at least in public. President Biden, under pressure at home and abroad to use U.S. leverage more effectively, has become increasingly direct, calling Israeli military tactics “over the top,” even as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will not bow to international demands until a total victory over Hamas is achieved.

The United States stood alone in opposing the call for an immediate cease-fire and asking for more negotiating time. With the exception of Britain, which abstained, the rest of the council’s 15 members voted in favor of the Algerian resolution, which also demanded the release of all hostages.

In both angry and sorrowful speeches, ambassadors from one nation after another indicated they had had enough.

“The human toll and the humanitarian situation in Gaza is intolerable, and Israeli operations must stop,” French Ambassador Nicolas de Rivière said after voting in favor of the resolution.

“It is not that the Security Council does not have an overriding consensus, but rather it is the exercise of the veto by the United States that has stifled the council consensus,” said China’s envoy, Zhang Jun.

The veto was a “stark example of double standards,” said Egyptian Ambassador Osama Mahmoud Abdel Khalek Mahmoud, whose government, along with Qatar and the United States, is part of the hostage negotiation effort between Israel and Hamas. Mahmoud expressed “disappointment and frustration as a result of the obstruction of the U.S.”

Far from impeding the discussion on a hostage release, he said, the vetoed resolution would have created “conditions conducive for its success.”

The negotiations themselves, initially expected to move swiftly after a proposed “framework” was presented to Israel and Hamas nearly three weeks ago, have not been going well. “We made some good progress [the] last few weeks … but the last few days have not been progressing as expected,” Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said Saturday at the Munich Security Conference.

If agreements on outstanding issues can be reached “in the next few days,” he said, “I believe we can see a deal happen very soon. … But the past few days are not really very promising.”

On Tuesday, the Biden administration dispatched one of its biggest guns on the issue — National Security Council Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk — to Cairo and Tel Aviv “specifically to see if we can get this hostage deal in place,” council spokesman John Kirby told reporters at the White House. “We are at a very delicate time right now, with these discussions going on.”

The United States is striving to expand on an earlier, week-long pause in the Israel-Gaza war in November, which led to the release of 105 hostages — women and children — who had been captured by Hamas during its Oct. 7 assault on southern Israel. That attack left about 1,200 Israelis dead and sparked a massive military retaliation.

The new framework outlines a six-week cessation of hostilities. The proposed U.S. resolution for the first time called it a “cease fire,” albeit a temporary one that Biden administration officials are hoping lasts long enough to lead to something more permanent.

An administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomacy, called the U.S. draft resolution an “affirmative vision” that would put demands on Israel as well as Hamas, and contained a firm commitment to a long-term solution for a lasting peace and the rebuilding of Gaza. Thomas-Greenfield invited other governments to consult on the document but gave no indication of when it might be offered for a vote.

U.S., Arab nations plan for postwar Gaza, timeline for Palestinian state

Israel’s ongoing operations in Gaza have left nearly 30,000 dead, according to Gazan health officials. Hundreds of thousands of civilians fled to southern Gaza when Israel began its air and ground assault in the north, but as many as 300,000 people are estimated to remain there. While aid deliveries have been difficult throughout the enclave, few have managed to arrive in northern Gaza because of continued fighting, destroyed roads and Israeli denial of passage.

After its trucks were mobbed by civilian looters, the World Food Program said Tuesday that it was suspending what it called “life saving” aid deliveries to the north because of safety concerns, amid what it described as “unprecedented levels of desperation” across Gaza.

Israel has repeatedly said sufficient aid has been made available and accused UNRWA, the U.N. agency that is the main distributor of humanitarian assistance to Palestinians, of collaborating with Hamas and allowing it to siphon off aid. “UNRWA is a terrorist organization,” Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Gilad Erdan, told the Security Council on Tuesday. “In Gaza, Hamas is the U.N. and the U.N. is Hamas.”

Many of those who fled destruction in the north are now crammed into tents, makeshift shelters and the streets of Rafah, along the Egyptian border, after Israel shifted the focal point of its offensive to the southern city of Khan Younis, in pursuit of what it says are Hamas leaders who have taken refuge in a network of tunnels.

“Absolutely nothing has changed about our desire to see the threat from Hamas eliminated,” Kirby said. “We don’t believe the Hamas leadership should be able to get off scot free here after what happened on the seventh of October.”

But he reiterated Biden’s warning to Israel not to attack Rafah without a “credible and executable plan” to protect civilians. “We do not support major operations in Rafah that do not properly account for … the safety and security of those million plus people finding refuge,” he said. “I am not aware yet of the existence of a credible plan to do that at this time.” Kirby said McGurk would repeat that message when he arrives in Israel on Thursday.

Netanyahu has said calling off or delaying a Rafah offensive would be tantamount to telling Israel to “lose the war” against Hamas. On Tuesday, he repeated that Israel would not change course.

“We are committed to continuing the war until we achieve all of its goals,” Netanyahu said. “There is no pressure, none, that can change this.”

Israel has indicated that a Rafah offensive would take place before the March 10 beginning of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.

That has become the operative deadline for achieving a hostage deal. Israel described as “delusional” Hamas’s counterproposal for the release of 1,500 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. The negotiating framework would see three prisoners freed for each hostage — the same terms as the November pause.

Officials have indicated that humanitarian aid is now the biggest problem, with Hamas demanding that at least 500 trucks enter Gaza daily. Negotiators worry that unless new routes are allowed to open, it will be difficult to get above the current level of 200 on a good day.

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