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Security council U.N. approves resolution for Gaza cease-fire

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Smoke streaks into the sky over the outskirts of Gaza City as the Israeli operation continues and casualties mount. The United Nations says it has suspended delivery of all humanitarian aid.

HATEM MOUSSA / AP Enlarge

JERUSALEM - The U.N. Security Council yesterday adopted a resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire between Hamas militants and Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip.

Israel and Hamas were not parties to the vote and it will be up to them to stop the fighting. But the text of the resolution was hammered out by the United States, Israel's chief ally, and by Arab nations that have ties to Hamas and the Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories.

The 15-nation council adopted the resolution 14-0, with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice casting the sole abstention.

Ms. Rice said the United States "fully supports" the resolution but abstained because it "thought it important to see the outcomes of the Egyptian mediation" with Israel and Hamas, aimed at achieving a cease-fire.

The resolution demands an "immediate, durable, and fully respected cease-fire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza," according to U.S. and Arab officials. 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 opposed the passage of any U.N. resolution, privately expressed reservations about the text on the grounds that it failed to include a firm guarantee that Hamas would stop firing its rockets before Israel would halt its military operation, U.N. diplomats said.

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

The Security Council vote was taken hours after the United Nations said it would suspend deliveries of all humanitarian aid in the territory, citing Israeli attacks on its facilities and personnel.

The suspension of 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 yesterday, and humanitarian groups that 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," John Ging, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency's top official in Gaza, said. 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 the one obstructing aid.

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

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

Three Israeli soldiers were killed in fighting in Gaza yesterday, bringing the total since the start of the ground operation to nine. Four civilians in Israel have been killed by rockets since the offensive on Gaza began Dec. 27.

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