by Xinhua Writers Gu Zhenqiu and Wang Xiangjiang
UNITED NATIONS, Jan. 9 (Xinhua) -- Fighting between Israel and Hamas continued unchecked Friday, just hours after the UN Security Council adopted a resolution in an overwhelming call for an immediate cease in Gaza, the unimpeded provision across the territory of food, fuel and medical treatment, and intensified international arrangements to prevent arms and ammunition smuggling.
Both Israel and Hamas defied the United Nations call for an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire in the 14-day Gaza war on Friday, with Israeli jets and helicopters bombing Gazaand Hamas responding with a barrage of rockets on at least two Israeli cities. Israel said continued barrages of rocket fire from its adversaries made the UN resolution "unworkable," while Hamas claimed the resolution "does not suit us because it is not in the best interest of the Palestinian people," reports said.
The ongoing conflict shows it is more urgent than ever to exercise the ceasefire between the warring parties at once, and how difficult it is to carry out the resolution.
In fact, it is up to Israel and Hamas, which are not parties to the council vote, to make painstaking efforts to honor the binding Security Council resolution, with 14 of the 15 members voting in favor and the only U.S. abstention, Western diplomatic sources here said.
Immediately after the vote, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council that "my visit to the region next week will focus on helping to ensure that the ceae-fire is implemented, that urgent humanitarian assistance reaches those in need and encouraging the diplomatic efforts currently under way."
The UN text was the final compromise reached in the wake of days of tortuous negotiations between foreign ministers from the United States, Britain and France on the one side and Arab states on the other. Arab countries insisted the Security Council issue a binding resolution that would press Israel to end its military campaign in the Gaza Strip immediately, while Israel opposed the idea of a binding UN resolution.
The cautiously worded resolution just simply "stresses the urgency of and calls for an immediate, durable and fully respected cease-fire," instead of "demanding" an immediate truce as originally proposed by Arab countries. The resolution was being drafted and amended at the UN Headquarters in New York while the Israeli offensive against Gaza was going on and diplomatic efforts in Cairo was in full swing.
As a result, the United States dropped its objections and agreed to go along with a carefully worded text while Arab foreign ministers, led by Secretary-General of the Arab League Amr Moussa, gave up its previous clear-cut demands to incorporate into the draft the condemnation of the Israeli military attacks on Gaza and the immediate withdrawal of the Israeli forces to the areas prior to Dec. 27, when Israel launched air strikes to stamp out the firing of rockets into southern Israel by Hamas militants.
A negative vote by the United States, one of the council's five permanent members with veto powers, would have killed the measure.
The new resolution includes the key elements of demands by Arab ministers -- the immediate ceasefire in Gaza, the end to Israeli embargo against Gaza and the opening of crossing points into the territory. While the call is tantamount to a demand on the parties, Israel's troops won't be required to pull out of Gaza until there is a durable cease-fire, the observers said.
"An immediate and durable ceasefire is only the first step," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at the open Security Council meeting. "More will be needed, and a political way forward is required to relive long-term security and peace."
The Security Council was meeting in the common cause of achieving a ceasefire, and the resolution was adopted with a sense of urgency: On the one hand, the Israeli military campaign reportedly killed 778 Palestinians and wounded thousands others, with the Arab ministers insisting that they have no more time to waste. On the other hand, Washington has only less than two weeks to go before the end of government transition, and the Bush administration won't leave the ongoing bombardment on Gaza as one of its legacies.
At last, the Security Council, which has the primary responsibility for maintaining peace and security in the world at large, gave out a united voice on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Over the past two weeks, the world has witnessed the escalating violence and the suffering in Gaza and southern Israel, and the Security Council has been repeatedly blamed for its inability to put an early end to the crisis in facing rising Palestinian civilian casualties and worsening humanitarian situation on the ground.
The resolution is seen as only a partial victory for Arab countries, which succeeded in pushing through a resolution when the United States and other nations were keener on issuing a non-binding "presidential statement," but they were also frustrated that an earlier Libya-proposed draft was abandoned in favor for the British resolution, jointly hammered out by France and the United States, the observers said.
It is hard to see how this new resolution is enforced given the fact that the United State, Israel's close ally, has decided to abstain from the council vote. The U.S. move is considered sending a clear signal that it will not take further steps to pressure Israel.
Explaining her vote choice, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the open Security Council meeting that "we must establish an international consensus that Gaza must never again be used as a launching pad for rockets against Israeli citizens, because it is important to remember how this crisis began." She stressed that the violence in the Strip had been instigated by Hamas, "a terrorist group that called for the destruction of Israel."
Although the UN resolution is legally binding, it does not have any enforcement mechanism, and Israel has ignored dozens of UN resolutions on the Middle East over the years, UN experts here said.
The adoption of the resolution came as diplomatic efforts to secure an end to the fighting moved into higher gear with the UN secretary-general calling senior officials in the region. He telephoned Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal on Thursday morning and was trying to reach Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
At the same time, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak invited Israelis and Palestinians, including Hamas representatives, to enter into peace talks in Cairo after he announced a peace initiative, which won immediate welcome from such countries and international organizations as the United States, Israel, and the United Nations.
The new resolution is "the only viable way to peace," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said at the open council session, "The message of hope needs to be heeded without delay and negotiation under way needs to achieve prompt results."
With the adoption of the new resolution, the Security Council served its purpose under the UN Charter by speaking clearly and with authority. "There were more responsibilities, for the States in the region, as well as the international community as a whole," David Miliband, the British secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs, said at the same council meeting, "The job now is to turn the words of the resolution into a reality."
"The real joy is not in what has been achieved in New York, but what will be achieved in Gaza, where I hope that many lives will now be saved," Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said.