The United States on Friday vetoed a United Nations resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, where Israel has launched hundreds of strikes, relief efforts were faltering, and people were growing so desperate for basic necessities that some were stoning and raiding aid convoys.
The U.N. secretary general, António Guterres, and most members of the Security Council, had backed the measure, saying that the humanitarian catastrophe in the coastal enclave where 2.2 million Palestinians live could threaten world stability.
But the United States, which is one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, blocked the resolution, arguing that Israel has the right to defend itself against Hamas attacks. The vote was 13 to 1, with Britain abstaining and some U.S. allies like France voting for a cease-fire.
Robert A. Wood, who was representing the United States on the Council, said after the veto that the resolution for an unconditional and immediate cease-fire “was not only unrealistic, but dangerous — it would simply leave Hamas in place, able to regroup and repeat what it did on Oct. 7.”
The failed resolution came as the United Nations reported that it was struggling to deliver essential goods like food, medicine and cooking gas to desperate civilians who have packed into shelters and tent cities after two months of war.
“Civil order is breaking down,” Thomas White, the Gaza director of the United Nations relief agency for Palestinians, wrote on social media Friday. He added: “Some aid convoys are being looted and UN vehicles stoned. Society is on the brink of full-blown collapse.”
Mr. White spoke a day after the Biden administration warned that the Israeli military had not done enough to reduce harm to civilians in Gaza.
“It is imperative — it remains imperative — that Israel put a premium on civilian protection,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken told reporters in Washington on Thursday. “And there does remain a gap between exactly what I said when I was there, the intent to protect civilians, and the actual results that we’re seeing on the ground.”
Fighting has been raging in southern Gaza’s largest city, Khan Younis, and in northern Gaza, where Israeli troops have focused on the Shajaiye neighborhood of Gaza City, and Jabaliya, a densely populated neighborhood north of the city, where they say Hamas operatives continue to hide out.
An Israeli government spokesman, Eylon Levy, said that Israel had been taking steps to keep civilians safe “despite attempts by their own leaders to deliberately sacrifice them as human shields.”
“That’s why we published a very detailed map to help civilians evacuate; it’s why we surrendered the element of surprise by urging the evacuation of areas before moving in,” Mr. Levy said. He added, “We believe we are setting the highest possible standard for the minimization of civilian casualties in counterterrorism operations in urban areas.”
But Israel has been facing pressure from the United Nations to stop the fighting. On Wednesday, for the first time in his seven-year tenure at the helm of the U.N., Mr. Guterres invoked Article 99, a rarely used U.N. rule that allows the secretary general to bring to the Security Council’s attention any matter that “may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.”
Mr. Guterres argued that it was necessary because of the suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza and because related conflicts were flaring in the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
In an earlier address to the Council, he said: “There is a high risk of the total collapse of the humanitarian support system in Gaza, which would have devastating consequences. I fear the consequences could be devastating for the security of the entire region.”
Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., Gilad Erdan, told the Council that approving the resolution — which was submitted by the United Arab Emirates — would only allow Hamas to regroup and plan more attacks on the Jewish state. He said Israel would “continue with its mission, the elimination of Hamas’s terror capability and the return of all of the hostages.”
Mohamed Abushahab, the U.A.E.’s deputy ambassador to the U.N., said after the vote, “Regrettably, and in the face of untold misery, this Council is unable to demand a humanitarian cease-fire.” He added, “Against the backdrop of the secretary general’s grave warnings, the appeals by humanitarian actors, the world’s public opinion — this Council grows isolated. It appears untethered from its own founding document.”
Before the veto, Mr. Wood said the United States had tried to negotiate changes to the agreement, but “nearly all of our recommendations were ignored,” including adding a condemnation of Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel and an endorsement of Israel’s right to self-defense.
Israel launched its offensive after Hamas led an attack on southern Israel in October, killing 1,200 people and taking about 240 hostages, according to Israeli officials. Since then, more than 15,000 people in Gaza have been killed, according to health officials in the territory.
The Israeli military said on Friday that it had struck hundreds of targets over the previous 24 hours and had pushed deeper into Gaza. The military said the air force had attacked “numerous terrorists” in a two-hour round of strikes in Khan Younis, which has become a focus of the fighting over the last week.
In a video statement, Brig. Gen. Dan Goldfus, who is commanding Israeli soldiers in Khan Younis, said that troops were “moving from tunnel to tunnel, house to house.”
“The enemy is jumping out at us from the orchards, from tunnels,” General Goldfus said, as gunfire crackled in the background.
Israel has asked the U.S. State Department to approve an order for 45,000 rounds of ammunition for the types of tanks operating in Gaza, according to U.S. officials with knowledge of the request. The value of the order is more than $500 million, they said.
Some U.S. lawmakers are likely to raise sharp questions about the order once the State Department submits it to Congress for review. But one official said the department is considering invoking an emergency provision in an arms export act to bypass congressional review.
An Israeli military roundup of hundreds of Palestinian men in Gaza has set off outrage after photos and video of men tied up outdoors and stripped to their underwear spread widely on social media on Thursday. Israeli officials said the men had been detained in Jabaliya and Shajaiye and stripped to ensure they were not carrying explosives.
“We’re talking about military-age men who were discovered in areas that civilians were supposed to have evacuated weeks ago,” Mr. Levy said. “Those individuals will be questioned and we will work out who indeed was a Hamas terrorist and who is not.”
Critics said that the mass detentions and humiliating treatment could violate the laws of war.
Brian Finucane, an analyst at the International Crisis Group and a former legal adviser to the State Department, said that international law set “a very high bar” for an occupying power to detain noncombatants and that “the base line is going to be humane treatment.”
“That prohibits outrages on personal dignity and humiliating and degrading treatment,” he said.
In southern Gaza, where some limited relief supplies have been delivered through a border crossing with Egypt, more than eight out of 10 households have taken extreme measures to cope with food shortages, the World Food Program said this week. In northern Gaza, 97 percent of households were doing the same, the survey found.
Israel said on Thursday it would allow a “minimal” supply of additional fuel into Gaza “to prevent a humanitarian collapse and the outbreak of epidemics,” and would open a second border crossing for aid deliveries.
Reporting was contributed by Sarah Hurtes, Liam Stack, Edward Wong, Yara Bayoumy, Raja Abdulrahim, Arijeta Lajka, Christiaan Triebert and Chevaz Clarke.