UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council on Thursday called for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza that Arab nations hope will put an end to Israel’s 13-day offensive, but the United States abstained.
The resolution “stresses the urgency of and calls for an immediate, durable and fully respected cease-fire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.”
It also called for arrangements in Gaza to prevent arms smuggling to Palestinian militants and reopen border crossings, and for “unimpeded provision” and distribution of aid in Gaza, where more than 750 Palestinians, many of them civilians, have been killed.
Addressing the council, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised the resolution and said she abstained only because the United States first wanted to see the outcome of an Egyptian mediation effort.
The text was the product of days of tortuous negotiations between top diplomats from the United States, Britain and France and Arab states.
Israel attacked Gaza on December 27 in a bid to stamp out rocket fire by Palestinian militants against southern Israel.
Arab countries, many facing strong anti-Israeli sentiment at home, insisted the Security Council must issue a binding resolution that would force Israel to end its military campaign in the Gaza Strip immediately.
Israel had opposed the idea of a binding U.N. resolution.
The United States had backed its ally Israel but diplomats said it dropped its objections and agreed to go along with a cautiously worded text.
Rice, Foreign Secretary David Miliband and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner negotiated for three days with Arab diplomats at the United Nations on a compromise text.
As they did so, violence continued on the ground. Israel pressed its offensive, a U.N. aid agency said it was suspending operations in Gaza and a rocket salvo from Lebanon slightly wounded two people in northern Israel.
Libya, the only Arab country on the council, had earlier presented Western countries with a revised version of a resolution it drafted earlier this week.
Until Thursday, Western countries had pushed for a nonbinding presidential statement by the Security Council. But Arab ministers rejected that as inadequate and persuaded the British, U.S. and French delegations to accept wording that might be unpalatable to Israel.
Arab ministers huddled in meeting rooms in the basement of the council while Western powers had their base two floors above them, shuttling back and forth with suggestions.
As agreement neared, a British expert delivered Arab ministers an amended text while they were grabbing late-afternoon sandwiches and coffee in a heavily smoke-laden cafe in the basement.
A Western diplomat said there was something for both Israelis and Palestinians in the final text of the resolution.
“You need to give the Israelis something which responds to their legitimate security concerns about smuggling, and the balancing element of that for the Palestinians is to find a sustainable way of opening the crossings” into Gaza.
Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau, writing by Patrick Worsnip; Editing by Cynthia Osterman