The U.N. Security Council ratified a draft statement early Monday calling for a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.
The council adopted the presidential statement as Muslims begin celebrating the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
The statement calls for both Israel and the Islamic militant group Hamas “to accept and fully implement the humanitarian cease-fire into the Eid period and beyond.” It said this would allow for the delivery of urgently needed assistance.
The statement also called on both sides to begin to “engage in efforts to achieve a durable and fully respected cease-fire,” based on a proposal previously put forward by Egypt. Hamas has rejected previous Egyptian proposals for a truce in the region and insisted that any cease-fire agreement must include the lifting of a joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza.
The resolution was drafted by Jordan, the Arab League’s representative on the Security Council. The text “expresses grave concern regarding the deterioration in the situation as a result of the crisis related to Gaza and the loss of civilian lives and casualties,” though it does not call for the Israeli military to pull out of the territory.
Rwanda, the current council president, announced agreement Sunday night on the presidential statement and the immediate, rare emergency meeting. Presidential statements become part of the council’s official record and must be approved at a council meeting. They are a step below Security Council resolutions, but unlike resolutions they require approval of all 15 members.
The Security Council is often deeply divided on Israeli-Palestinian issues, with the United States, Israel’s most important ally, often blocking or using its veto on statements and resolutions pressed by the Palestinians and their supporters.
Jordan’s deputy U.N. ambassador Mahmoud Hmoud said the presidential statement was the first Security Council document on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since January 2009, when the council called for an immediate cease-fire and withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza after another conflict with Hamas.
The Gaza health ministry claims the 20-day war has killed more than 1,030 Palestinians, though it is unclear how many are civilians. Israel has lost 43 soldiers, as well as two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker killed by rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza, according to the Israeli military.
The Palestinians and the Israelis both criticized the statement adopted by the council.
Palestinian U.N. Ambassador Riyad Mansour said the council should have adopted a strong and legally binding resolution a long time ago demanding an immediate halt to Israel’s “aggression,” providing the Palestinian people with protection and lifting the siege in the Gaza Strip so goods and people can move freely.
Nonetheless, Mansour expressed hope that Israel will “honor and respect” a new humanitarian cease-fire which the Palestinians hope will last “for a long time” so all outstanding issues can be addressed, especially the siege.
“You cannot keep 1.8 million Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip in this huge prison,” he told reporters. “That is a recipe for disaster, It is inhumane, and it has to be stopped and it has to be lifted.”
Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor said the presidential statement didn’t mention Hamas or the firing of rockets into Israel or Israel’s right to defend itself.
He sidestepped several questions on whether Israel would accept a new humanitarian cease-fire, but stressed that it had agreed to five cease-fires since the conflict began.
“Every single time the international community called for a cease-fire, we ceased and Hamas fired,” he said.
Prosor directed his statement to countries that give money to the Palestinians in Gaza, saying, “Your tax dollars are not being used towards education, civil services or development — they are being used to develop a terrorist stronghold.”
The statement calls for “full respect” for international humanitarian law and reiterates “the need to take appropriate steps to ensure the safety and well-being of civilians and their protection.”
The statement also commends efforts by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to achieve a cease-fire. Ban is scheduled to address U.N. correspondents on Monday morning on his mission.
In the longer term, the statement urges the parties and the international community to achieve a comprehensive peace based on the vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace “with secure and recognized borders.”