'We have to act now': UN Security Council to meet and vote on Gaza resolution

High-stakes meeting to discuss ceasefire after Antonio Guterres invoked rarely used Article 99

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has said Gaza faces a 'humanitarian catastrophe'. AFP
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The UN Security Council will meet on Friday to discuss a draft resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza after Secretary General Antonio Guterres took the rare step of declaring the conflict a threat to world peace and security.

The UAE submitted the resolution hours after Mr Guterres on Wednesday invoked Article 99 of the UN Charter, which states that “the Secretary General may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security”.

Mr Guterres warned of an imminent “humanitarian catastrophe” and implored Security Council members to call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.

More than 17,000 people have been killed in the enclave and most of the population left without shelter or basic essentials two months into an Israeli offensive.

The UAE, with the support of the Arab and Islamic states, circulated a brief draft resolution to the council, which expressed “grave concern over the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and the suffering of the Palestinian civilian population”.

It said that the “Palestinian and Israeli civilian populations must be protected in accordance with international humanitarian law".

The diplomats also demanded the “immediate and unconditional release of all hostages” and humanitarian access into Gaza.

According to a UN diplomat, invoking Article 99 was entirely the decision of the Secretary General.

“For the UN in Gaza, the time is up and we have to act now,” the diplomat told The National, while warning that the article was not a “magic bullet”.

The UAE is aiming to put the text to a vote on Friday, when the council is set to be briefed by Mr Guterres on the situation in Gaza.

The US deputy envoy to the UN, Robert Wood, told reporters on Thursday that the US had not had any discussions with the UAE about its text.

“But we've been very clear, we don't think another Security Council product right now is going to be helpful to the situation,” Mr Wood said.

The US, Israel's strongest ally, has already used its veto once to block a resolution that called for a humanitarian ceasefire as it did not explicitly condemn Hamas.

Instead, Washington is advocating for temporary humanitarian pauses as long as Hamas continues to release hostages it took during its attack in southern Israel on October 7, which led to the conflict.

Richard Gowan, UN director at the International Crisis Group, told The National that while Article 99 carried symbolic weight, the Secretary General cannot force states to act on his warning.

“This could still backfire for him,” Mr Gowan said.

“I do think it is brave of the Secretary General to invoke Article 99. By taking the risk of upsetting the US, he is sending a clear signal that it is essential to halt the war in Gaza.

“He's effectively putting his own credibility on the line to try to get to peace, and that is not a small gesture.”

Should the US veto the ceasefire resolution, Mr Gowan said, “it will look like Washington is disregarding the Secretary General.

“That will do the US reputational damage, but it will also leave Guterres looking diminished and short on political options over Gaza.”

In a briefing by humanitarian groups on Thursday, Bushra Khalidi, Oxfam’s policy lead in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel, welcomed Mr Guterres's invocation of Article 99 as a “critical step” towards addressing the Gaza crisis at the highest levels.

“The forced displacement and the deprivation inflicted upon more than 2 million people in Gaza calls for international intervention to avert a humanitarian disaster and a complete breakdown,” Ms Khalidi said.

Updated: December 08, 2023, 10:51 AM