To cease fire or pause? US, Russia poised for UN showdown on Israel

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States and Russia have put forward rival plans at the United Nations to help Palestinian civilians caught in the Israel-Hamas conflict in the Gaza Strip: a humanitarian pause or a ceasefire.

Both countries seek U.N. Security Council resolutions to address shortages of food, water, medical supplies and electricity in Gaza. But the U.S. has called for pauses to allow aid to enter Gaza, while Russia wants a humanitarian ceasefire.

A pause is generally considered less formal and shorter than a ceasefire. While the differences may seem semantic, the U.S. proposal for pauses has grown out of an initial draft given to the 15-member council on Saturday that was staunchly pro-Israel, Washington's longtime ally.

Russia announced on Tuesday that it could not support the U.S. plan for action and put forward its own text that calls for a ceasefire, an idea backed by Arab states.

A council resolution needs at least nine votes and no vetoes by the United States, France, Britain, Russia or China to be adopted. It was not immediately clear if or when the U.S. and Russian draft resolutions could be put to a vote.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made the case for the U.S. draft resolution at a Security Council meeting on Tuesday, saying the body had a crucial role to play and that the U.S. text "sets out practical steps."

The United States last week vetoed a Brazil-drafted resolution for humanitarian pauses, arguing that time was needed for U.S.-led diplomacy focused on brokering aid access to Gaza on the ground and trying to free hostages held by Hamas.

Twelve members voted in favor of the draft text on Wednesday, while Russia and Britain abstained.

The U.S. then proposed its own draft text on Saturday that initially shocked some council diplomats with its bluntness in stating that Israel has a right to defend itself and demanding Iran stop exporting arms to militant groups in the region.

It did not initially call for any pause or truce. But - responding to growing international pressure - it amended the draft to include a call "for all measures necessary, such as humanitarian pauses" to allow aid access.

The U.S. also toned down the overall draft, removing direct references to Iran and to Israel's right to self-defense.


But Russia put forward its own alternative draft resolution on Tuesday after saying it does not support the proposed U.S. action.

"The whole world is expecting from the Security Council a call for a swift and unconditional ceasefire," Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the Security Council. "This is precisely what is not in the American draft. Therefore, we don't see any point in it, and we cannot support it."

Russia last week failed to get the minimum nine votes needed for a draft resolution that called for a humanitarian ceasefire. The draft resolution received five votes in favor and four votes against, along with six abstentions.

Nebenzia said on Tuesday that the new Russian text drew on humanitarian language from the U.S., Brazilian and first Russian drafts.

Arab states made clear at the United Nations on Tuesday that they firmly back a call for a humanitarian ceasefire.

"We followed with regret the inability of this council twice to adopt a resolution or even to call for a ceasefire to end this war," Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told the council.

Israel has vowed to wipe out the Hamas Islamist group that rules Gaza, after its gunmen burst through the barrier fence surrounding the enclave on Oct. 7 and rampaged through Israeli towns and kibbutzes, killing 1,400 people.

Israel has since pounded Gaza from the air, imposed a siege and is preparing for a ground offensive. Palestinian authorities say more than 5,700 people have been killed in the enclave. The U.N. says some 1.4 million have been made homeless.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Cynthia Osterman)