US abstention stuns security council Julian Borger and Ian Black The Guardian, Saturday 10 January 2009 A UN resolution calling for an end to the fighting in Gaza was weakened at the last minute by a surprise US abstention, it emerged yesterday. Diplomatic sources said the US was closely involved in the drafting of the security council resolution calling for a ceasefire and that Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, had defended it in the face of pressure from Israel. The US abstention, at the final vote, stunned British and French diplomats. The resolution, calling for a truce and a withdrawal of Israeli troops once a "durable" ceasefire had been achieved was passed 14-0, but the US abstention will soften its impact in Israel, where signals sent from Washington are carefully scrutinised and where an election is looming. Ehud Olmert, Israel's prime minister, issued a statement saying the resolution was "not practical" and the offensive against Hamas in Gaza would continue. Israel opposed the resolution on the grounds that it put the state on an equal footing with Hamas, and did not give a complete guarantee against further attacks from Hamas rockets. Thursday night's call from Washington ordering an abstention appears to have come after an eleventh-hour appeal to the White House from Olmert. Hamas also dismissed the ceasefire proposal and said that whoever tried to enforce it on the ground would be forced to deal with the Islamist movement, underlining its determination to be recognised as a key player in the conflict. Musa Abu Marzouk, Hamas's deputy political leader, accused the US of wanting to give Israel more time to achieve its goals in Gaza. "This resolution was discussed in the hallways of the United Nations," he told Hezbollah's al-Manar TV from Damascus. "The movement was not consulted. Our vision and the interests of our people were not taken into consideration." Analysts say Hamas fears a settlement being imposed on it and, like Israel, wants to be able to show that it has improved its position as a result of the fighting. "They [the US] want to give the enemy more time, said Abu Marzouk. But I assure you that they will not achieve any of their goals and they will withdraw in disappointment and they will be defeated." The resolution was supported by the Arab League, which had wanted tougher language but was ultimately satisfied that the ceasefire call was in the form of a resolution, legally binding albeit not directly enforceable, rather than a weaker security council presidential statement, as Britain and the US had initially proposed. "That's the most you are ever going to get out of the security council process," said an Arab diplomat. "They've sucked the marrow out of it." The text "stresses the urgency of and calls for an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza". It balanced a call for Israel to open the border crossings into Gaza with an appeal to UN members to police Gaza's border with Egypt to prevent arms smuggling. In her remarks after the vote Rice made clear her backing for the resolution but said the US had abstained because it wanted to wait for the outcome of Egyptian and French mediation on the ground. The incident marked the latest in a long line of issues on which the state department has been over-ruled by the White House, both under Rice and her predecessor, Colin Powell. The hard line taken in support of Israel by George Bush and his vice-president, Dick Cheney, has been maintained until the last days of the administration. A senior European diplomat said US abstention nevertheless represented a qualified diplomatic victory for UN consensus. "Before they were going to veto, so to go from veto to a vote for a resolution was maybe too far," the diplomat said. David Miliband, the foreign secretary, who had delayed his return to London to draft the text, said it would help bolster peace efforts in the region. Syria was said to be urging Hamas not to accept Egyptian-French proposals for a ceasefire, arguing it should hold out for a deal that enhances its position via-a-vis Israel and Fatah, its Palestinian rival.