International aid organizations, including the UN humanitarian agency in Palestine, are calling for the immediate implementation of the Security Council resolution passed late Thursday demanding a cease-fire in Gaza.
"The Council must ensure that the words in the resolution must quickly translate into meaningful change," said Nicole Widdersheim of Oxfam International, the London-based charity that runs humanitarian operations in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Thursday night, the Security Council passed a resolution calling for unimpeded provision throughout Gaza of food, fuel, and medical treatment, as well as intensified international arrangements to prevent arms and ammunition smuggling.
Fourteen of the Council’s 15 members voted in favor of the resolution, with only the United States, a staunch ally of Israel, abstaining.
As a result of the Israeli military assault on Gaza, which started Dec. 27, at least 800 Palestinians have been killed and more than 3,000 injured about half of them women and children.
"Emergency personnel must be granted safe passage so that they can reach the wounded and treat them," said Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in a statement released soon after the passage of the UN resolution.
Aid groups say they are having a great deal of difficulty reaching out to the victims of the war as Israel continues its operations in defiance of the Security Council resolution.
"We are very concerned about the casualties," said the UN humanitarian affairs chief John Holmes Friday. "[We] are unable to provide normal service. On the health side, the situation is extremely deteriorating."
On Thursday, due to intense shelling and bombing of various parts of Gaza, the UN decided to suspend its humanitarian operations. However, the world body resumed its operations in the area after Israeli authorities gave assurances of their cooperation.
In a statement, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, described the Israeli attacks on Gaza as "intolerable" and demanded that the cease-fire called for by the Security Council "be implemented immediately."
Pillay is considering setting up a commission to assess war crimes in the Gaza conflict. "Violations of international humanitarian law may constitute war crimes for which individual criminal responsibility may be invoked," she told the Human Rights Council.
On Thursday, the UN General Assembly president, Miguel d’Escoto, strongly criticized the Israeli strategy to use the UN to stall a cease-fire agreement until it had achieved its military objectives in Gaza.
In a statement, the Israeli foreign minister described her country’s fundamental diplomatic objective of gaining time to achieve its goals.
"Gain time for what?" d’Escoto said in a statement. "So that there can be more killing? So that there can be more destruction and more suffering of innocent people?"
According to d’Escoto, the Israeli foreign minister’s views on the need for more time were "almost the same words" uttered by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during the 2006 Israeli invasion into Lebanon.
"I think that it is not unlikely that the timing of this particular incident now is precisely to be able to do whatever they want to do before [U.S.] President [George W.] Bush leaves," he said.
Like d’Escoto, UN chief Ban Ki-moon also appeared frustrated at the Israelis’ behavior.
"Today, the secretary-general called the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and expressed his disappointment," UN spokesperson Farhan Haq told IPS, adding that the UN chief wants immediate compliance by Israel with the latest Security Council resolution.
Meanwhile, the General Assembly president said he has received a growing number of requests from heads of state and diplomats around the world this week to convene an emergency session to consider the humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territory.
The world, he said, was "fed up" with the inability of the United Nations, in particular the Security Council acting on the Assembly’s behalf, to "fulfill its principle and founding objective of averting war and maintaining international peace and security."
Before the adoption of the Council resolution Thursday, d’Escoto stressed that the international community should not remain "silent" and warned that a cease-fire in Gaza would not be permanent unless the root causes were fully addressed.
Though pleased with the outcome of the Security Council meeting, the Palestinian envoy, Riyad Mansour, expressed his apprehensions about the world community’s efforts to stop the Israeli aggression in Gaza.
"Israel is still violating the UN Charter and Security Council’s [latest] resolution," he told IPS. "It should be forced to be brought into compliance with the resolution."
On Friday, in a statement, the London-based Amnesty International said it wants the Security Council to establish full accountability for crimes committed in the Gaza conflict and for deployment of human rights monitors.
The rights watchdog said the Council must take "firm action" to ensure full accountability for war crimes and other serious abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law.
In an open letter to the Council, Amnesty also urged the Council to ensure that international human rights monitors are immediately dispatched to Gaza and southern Israel to investigate and report on continuing abuses by all parties.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has maintained its nearly unconditional support of Israel. In Washington, the House of Representatives voted 390-5, with 22 legislators non-voting, for a resolution that explicitly blamed Hamas for both the breakdown in the cease-fire and the subsequent casualties in Gaza and called for all countries to do the same.
The Senate approved a similar resolution by voice vote Thursday.
The hawkish lobby group American Israel Public Affairs Committee supported both resolutions, while J Street, the political arm of the U.S. pro-Israel, pro-peace movement, said it neither supported nor opposed them.
The non-binding resolutions call for the administration to "work actively to support a durable, enforceable, and sustainable cease-fire as soon as possible" and express "vigorous support and unwavering commitment to the welfare, security, and survival of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure borders and its right to act in self-defense to protect its citizens against acts of terrorism."
It demands that Hamas "end the rocket and mortar attacks against Israel, recognize Israel’s right to exist, renounce violence, and agree to accept previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians."
Both resolutions called for all efforts to protect civilian lives on both sides and address humanitarian needs in Gaza, but neither called for an immediate cease-fire.
An anonymous poll conducted by the National Journal of 32 Democratic and 36 Republican members of Congress on the question "How would you characterize Israel’s use of force in Gaza?" found that 39 percent of Democrats said Israel’s use of force was excessive, while just 12 percent of Republicans said so. Fifty-five percent of Democrats said it was just right, while 82 percent of Republicans agreed with that assertion.
Additional reporting by Jim Lobe in Washington.