US submits Security Council resolution seeking Gaza ceasefire linked to hostage release

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Egypt and Israel in next legs of sixth regional tour since war began

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken talks during his meeting with Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in Cairo. AFP
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The US submitted a draft resolution to the UN Security Council calling for an “immediate ceasefire linked to the release of hostages” in Gaza, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during his visit to the Middle East.

Mr Blinken, on his sixth tour of the region since the latest Gaza war began, announced the new draft during a visit to Saudi Arabia, where he held talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah.

“We have in fact submitted a resolution which is now before the Security Council calling for an immediate ceasefire linked to the release of the hostages, and we very much hope that countries will support it,” Mr Blinken told Saudi media outlet Al Arabiya.

On Thursday, Mr Blinken met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi in Cairo, who also called for an immediate ceasefire. He later met a group of Arab foreign ministers and a senior PLO official.

Speaking to reporters in Cairo late on Thursday, Mr Blinken said progress had been made in talks aimed at establishing a ceasefire in exchange for Hamas releasing hostages held in Gaza.

"We've made very good progress over especially the last month or so, we still have some work to do but I believe that, again, the progress is good."

He however declined to put a "timeframe" on when a deal might finally be reached.

Arab nations, led by Algeria, put a draft resolution to a vote last month with little expectation it would pass after the US said it would present a rival draft, which Mr Blinken said had now been submitted.

The latest US resolution stressed "the need for an immediate and durable ceasefire" to protect civilians and allow aid into the territory, according to AFP.

The National has obtained and seen a copy of the most recent US draft resolution on Gaza that is being circulated at the UN but it does not feature the same phrasing as AFP reported.

The resolution seen by The National states the UN Security Council “determines the imperative of an immediate and sustained ceasefire to protect civilians on all sides, allow for the delivery of essential humanitarian assistance, and alleviate humanitarian suffering and towards that end unequivocally supports ongoing international diplomatic efforts to secure such a ceasefire in connection with the release of all remaining hostages”.

The US draft resolution which contains 26 operative paragraphs, also stresses the demand for “the immediate, safe, sustained and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance at scale directly to the Palestinian civilian population throughout the Gaza Strip”.

Russia's deputy UN ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy told reporters in New York that they are not "satisfied with anything that doesn't call for a ceasefire".

Mr Polyanskiy indicated a preference for the terms "demand" or "call" in the US draft, rather than the phrase "determines the imperative" need for a ceasefire.

Blinken's Middle East tour

Mr Blinken met Mr El Sisi in Cairo on Thursday. He later conferred with the foreign ministers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan, as well as a senior official from the UAE and Hussein Al Sheikh, general secretary of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's executive committee and a confidante of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

“The President emphasised the necessity of an immediate ceasefire and alluded to the humanitarian disaster and famine that threatens the lives of innocent civilians in the strip,” Mr El Sisi's office said about his meeting with Mr Blinken.

Mr El Sisi also warned of the “grave consequences” of an Israeli ground assault on Rafah in southern Gaza, near the Egyptian border, it said in a statement.

The administration of President Joe Biden has been adamant that the Israelis should hold off on any ground operation into Rafah until a plan has been put in place to ensure the safety of civilians there.

In Cairo, Mr Blinken once again voiced US concern over the situation.

"We've been very clear, President Biden's been very clear that a major ground operation in Rafah would be a mistake and something that we can't support," Mr Blinken said. "There is no place for the many civilians who are massed in Rafah to go to get out of harm's way and for those that would inevitably remain, it would, it would be a humanitarian disaster."

It is widely feared an assault on Rafah, where 1.5 million Palestinians have taken refuge, would cause an intolerable number of civilian casualties.

Nearly 32,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza war, with more than double that number injured.

Separately, a statement by Egypt's Foreign Ministry about the meeting between Mr Blinken, the Arab ministers and PLO official said the participants wanted to see an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and more humanitarian aid delivered.

The ministers reaffirmed long-standing Arab demands for the creation of an independent Palestinian state and they emphasised Jordan's historical role as the guardian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, according to the statement.

They also called for a stop to Israel's "unilateral" measures to change the historical and legal status of Jerusalem.

Mr Blinken has said he would use his regional tour to hold talks on arrangements for the governance, security and redevelopment of Gaza after the conflict and efforts for lasting regional peace.

“We have to look at security, you don’t want to have a vacuum,” he said. "We’ve been very clear there can’t be an Israeli reoccupation. We can’t have Hamas in charge of Gaza. So we have to make sure that there’s a plan for security."

Discussions on how Gaza would be governed after the war were put on hold as mediators from Qatar, Egypt and the US sought to secure a ceasefire deal in the enclave that included the release of Israeli hostages and Palestinian detainees.

The Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited control in the occupied West Bank, may play a key role in administering Gaza once the fighting ends, though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposes its involvement in running the enclave.

Mr Blinken was asked about Mr Abbas’s decision to appoint a new prime minister as the US puts pressure on the Palestinian Authority to introduce reforms.

“These are decisions on individuals, on people, these are decisions for the Palestinians to make, not for us or for anyone else to make,” Mr Blinken told Al Arabiya.

“I think it’s very important that the cabinet of the new government that emerges have new faces, younger people – people who are genuinely representative of Gazans, the West Bank, and who are prepared to do the necessary things to really revitalise the Palestinian Authority so that it’s better able to deliver for the Palestinian people.”

Mr Blinken said the US expected to finish building a pier off the coast of the enclave in a matter of weeks. But he said delivering aid by sea was not a replacement for sending supplies through land crossings.

“Israel needs to open up more access points to Gaza. We’ve seen some progress there, including a new access point that was opened just about a week ago,” he said.

To send aid to Gaza by sea, Cyprus said it would on Thursday host a meeting with representatives of 35 countries and several UN agencies on a maritime route.

Mr Blinken is due to travel to Israel on Friday, where State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said he would caution Israel against a Rafah offensive.

Gazans lose faith in diplomacy

As Mr Blinken prepares to visit Israel on Friday, people in Gaza told The National they had little faith that his latest regional visit would improve their situation.

“He is not welcome at all. Each time he comes, he gives a green light for a new massacre. Maybe this time he will approve the operation against Rafah,” Mustafa Mohammed, from the Deir Al Balah refugee camp in central Gaza said.

“He came to give false hope, but we later found that no one cares about us and all their declarations and talks are only for the benefit of the Israeli side.”

Rola Abu Hashem, who is in Rafah after her house in Gaza city was destroyed, also said she has lost all hope.

“Each time we witness more Israeli crimes against us. We don’t want any visits,” she said. “All we need is an immediate ceasefire and for the genocide to stop.”

Some Gazans believe Mr Blinken’s arrival is linked to the temporary pier the US plans to build in Gaza. But there are fears the plan will lead to further displacement among Gazans in the south.

“Maybe he is coming to follow the work of building the port, to force the people of Gaza to leave and [he] wants to ensure that the Israeli plans to completely destroy Gaza will be carried out perfectly,” Hala Zayda said.

“We are fed up with all of this. They are trading in our blood and all of their lies are now clear. We are not foolish enough to believe them. America could have stopped this war from the beginning, but they are supporting Israel and don't even see us as humans who deserve to live.”

Updated: March 23, 2024, 3:37 AM