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Clarification to This Article
The article about the Gaza Strip said that Israel "remains the occupying power under international law." The article should have noted that this is a disputed point.

As U.S. Abstains, U.N. Security Council Calls for Cease-Fire

Israel continues its military offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip as diplomats in Cairo suggest tentative progress in their efforts to reach a cease-fire.
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By Griff Witte and Colum Lynch
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, January 9, 2009

JERUSALEM, Jan. 8-- The U.N. Security Council on Thursday adopted a resolution calling for a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, hours after the United Nations announced it would suspend humanitarian aid deliveries in the territory, citing Israeli attacks on its facilities and personnel.

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The 15-nation council adopted the resolution by a vote of 14 to 0. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cast the sole abstention but said the United States supports the text and objectives of the resolution.

The resolution demands an "immediate, durable and fully respected cease-fire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza," U.S. and Arab officials said. It marked a sharp reversal by the Bush administration, which had refused to allow passage of a cease-fire resolution without binding assurances that Hamas would halt its rocket attacks against Israel.

Israeli officials, who vigorously opposed the passage of any U.N. resolution on the crisis, privately expressed reservations about the current text on the grounds that it failed to include a firm guarantee that Hamas would stop its rocket fire before Israel would have to halt its military operation, according to U.N. diplomats.

Israel's U.N. ambassador, Gabriela Shalev, did not say whether Israel would bring an immediate halt to its Gaza operation. But she said that Hamas bears responsibility for the situation and that any "durable" cease-fire requires "the total cessation of rocket fire and [arms] smuggling."

The resolution expresses "grave concern" over the "deepening humanitarian crisis" in Gaza and calls for more international aid and "unimpeded" distribution of food, fuel, medical treatment and other humanitarian assistance. The text makes no mention of Hamas's practice of launching missiles into Israel. Instead, it "condemns all violence and hostilities directed against civilians and all acts of terrorism."

After the vote, Rice said that the United States had abstained on the resolution because the council refused to allow a delay to permit an Egyptian-led mediation effort to broker a cease-fire. But, she said, "we decided that this resolution -- the text of which we support, the goals of which we support and the objectives of which we fully support -- should indeed be allowed to go forward."

The suspension of U.N. aid deliveries is likely to deepen the crisis in Gaza, where more than half of the territory's 1.5 million people live on food aid and where water, power, medical supplies and cooking gas are already in short supply. It also deepens a bitter standoff between the Israeli government, which continued to bombard Gaza with airstrikes Thursday, and humanitarian groups say Israel has made it impossible to distribute badly needed aid in the beleaguered territory.

"We are perfectly prepared to take responsible risks in this conflict zone," said John Ging, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency's top official in Gaza. But it is "totally and wholly unacceptable," he said, that Israeli forces are "firing at our workers."

Israel has denied the charge and says Hamas is responsible for obstructing aid.

Other aid organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, said Thursday its officials would curtail their work in Gaza because of security concerns.

The Palestinian death toll stood at more than 760 Thursday, with more than 3,100 people injured, health officials in Gaza said. The United Nations has said a third or more are civilians.


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