Crisis in the Middle East: Israel’s claim to control the border area risks increasing tensions with Egypt

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Palestinians inspecting some of the damage a day after an Israeli attack near a camp for displaced people in Rafah on Sunday started a fire that killed at least 45 people.Credit…Eyad Baba/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Seeking to capitalize on outrage over Sunday’s Israeli attack that set fire to an encampment and killed at least 45 displaced Palestinians, including children, many U.N. Security Council diplomats this week are backing a new resolution that would call for the ‘immediate suspension of the fire and the end of the fire. Israeli military operations in the city of Rafah.

But they will have to overcome objections from the United States, which has veto power over the Council and has signaled it will not support the resolution in its current form.

Algeria, the only Arab representative in the current composition of the Security Council, drafted and circulated the one-page resolution, which states that “Israel, the occupying Power, will immediately stop its military offensive and any other actions in Rafah.” We call for “an immediate ceasefire, respected by all parties, and we also call for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages.”

The Council held consecutive meetings on the war in Gaza on Tuesday and Wednesday, first a closed-door emergency session on the Rafah camp strike and then a monthly open meeting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Algeria’s resolution is expected to be voted on in the coming days.

“The human cost is clear and frightening,” the Algerian ambassador, Amar Bendjama, told the Council on Wednesday. “These crimes speak for themselves.”

A U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said the United States will block the current version of the resolution, which he considers unbalanced and problematic. He said the United States has proposed a series of revisions.

In particular, the official explained, the United States does not want to pass a resolution calling on Israel to completely halt the military offensive in Rafah, which Israeli commanders say is still a stronghold of the armed group Hamas. The Biden administration supports limited Israeli operations there.

As one of the Council’s five permanent members, the United States holds veto power and has exercised it against three previous ceasefire resolutions since the war began in October. In March, the United States allowed passage of a resolution calling for a humanitarian ceasefire for the month of Ramadan by abstaining from the vote.

In recent weeks, as the number of civilians in Gaza has risen, US officials have become more openly critical of Israel’s conduct of the war. According to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which makes no distinction between fighters and civilians in its tally, at least 36,000 people have been killed in Israeli bombings and ground operations. Health officials said most of those killed were women, children and other noncombatants.

Gaza authorities say at least 45 people were killed in Sunday’s strike and its aftermath, when a fire ravaged Kuwait’s al-Salaam camp, where displaced people were living in tents. Among the victims was a child whose burned, headless body was shown in a video verified by the New York Times.

“The continued toll of civilian casualties resulting from incidents such as Sunday’s airstrikes undermines Israel’s strategic objectives in Gaza,” Robert A. Wood, the deputy U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told the Council on Wednesday. Wood added that Israel has the right to defend itself but also has “an obligation to protect civilians.”

Senior Biden administration officials expressed horror Tuesday at Sunday’s strike, but said it was not part of a major ground operation and therefore did not cross President Biden’s red line to block weapons shipments to Israel.

The Algerian resolution also cites an emergency ruling issued last Friday by the United Nations’ highest court, the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The ruling ordered Israel to immediately halt its military operations in Rafah, although Israeli officials argued that its wording left room for interpretation. The ruling came after controversy erupted in South Africa, which late last year brought a case accusing Israel of genocide to court.

Several Security Council diplomats said they hoped to vote on the resolution soon to capture the momentum and outrage generated by Sunday night’s strike and to prevent, if possible, harm to more civilians in Gaza. Prolonged negotiations to please the United States, diplomats said, would send the wrong signal about the Council’s determination to act.

“This Council must express itself urgently on the situation in Rafah and call for an end to this offensive,” said French Ambassador Nicolas de Rivière.

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