Updated 3.30pm Friday with comment by EU Council president Charles Michel.
The United Nations Security Council on Wednesday adopted a Malta-drafted resolution calling for “extended humanitarian pauses” in the war between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza.
There were 12 votes in favour, three abstentions – the USA, UK and Russia – and no votes against. Moments earlier, a Russian amendment seeking to include mention of a ceasefire was defeated.
It is the first resolution about the ongoing conflict passed by the UN’s highest organ, following four failed attempts to reach an agreement on a consensual resolution.
The resolution calls for the release of all hostages, especially children, being held by Hamas and for an urgent days-long ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza.
It also calls for the evacuation of the sick and injured and for all sides to refrain from depriving those in Gaza of basic services, which have been heavily restricted during the conflict.
Although Malta has called for a ceasefire in the region, the resolution stops short of using that word and instead calls for "extended humanitarian pauses and corridors" to allow aid, repairs and the evacuation of the sick and young.
Nor does the resolution make reference to the Hamas attack that provoked the conflict or Israel's retaliatory strikes and ground offensive, though Malta’s ambassador to the UN, Vanessa Frazier, condemned both before the vote.
The resolution’s careful wording reflects the divided nature of the UNSC and its members’ differing perspectives of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, with Russia and China on one side and the United States on the other.
The United States opposed any use of the term "ceasefire," diplomats said. Other terms floated were "truce" and "pause."
Malta's ambassador to the UN, Vanessa Frazier, described the resolution as "an important first step" and said all 15 council members had “the desire to save life and provide respite” to civilians.
“The Security Council members are united in wanting a voice,” she said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Ian Borg said Malta's efforts "were guided by the need to have a humanitarian resolution. We are determined to continue working towards peace."
Prime Minister Robert Abela said Malta's commitment to peace "remains unwavering".
Praise for Maltese efforts
Malta’s diplomatic efforts at achieving consensus within the UNSC drew praise from several members of the UN’s top table. Malta is currently one of the Security Council’s 10 non-permanent members.
“Our efforts were guided by the need to have a humanitarian resolution. We are determined to continue working towards peace,” Foreign Affairs Minister Ian Borg wrote on X (formerly Twitter) shortly after the vote.
Following the vote, the US representative praised Malta for its leadership in getting the resolution through but expressed regret that the resolution did not explicitly condemn Hamas.
The UK, which also abstained, said it supported the resolution's purposes and commended Malta's “astounding work”, but chose to abstain for the same reason.
Russia, the third country to abstain, highlighted “many deficiencies’ in the text and said it chose to abstain due to the lack of reference to an immediate ceasefire – something it said was essential for aid to be effective.
While other UNSC members acknowledged that the text was imperfect and a compromise, they all thanked Malta for its leadership in getting the resolution through.
In a tweet on Friday, European Council president Charles Michel thanked Malta for its efforts, adding now was the time for effective implementation of the resolution.
Palestine and Israel reaction
There was less praise from representatives of the conflict's two protagonists, however.
The Palestinian representative criticised the resolution for falling short of calling for a ceasefire and said that the Israeli foreign minister had already declared that Israel would not implement the resolution and would continue with its course of action.
“So, what are you going to do about it?” the Palestinian representative asked UNSC members.
Israel’s representative was also displeased, albeit for different reasons.
Describing the resolution as “detached from reality on the ground,” he argued that Israel was doing all it could to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza, while Hamas was “doing everything it could to make it worse.
“Hamas does not care about your resolutions or demands, it murders Gazans as they try to evacuate,” the Israeli representative said.
Frazier: Children must be protected
Speaking after the vote, Frazier said the resolution’s wording was in part inspired by her personal experience of working to provide safe passage to Malta for refugees fleeing conflict in Libya a decade ago.
Frazier led Malta’s efforts during that conflict.
She thanked the Maltese government “for giving me the trust and the space to do this” but also acknowledged that the UNSC as a whole had been too slow to respond to the ongoing conflict.
Frazier said she was disappointed by Israel’s immediate dismissal of the resolution and noted that UNSC decisions are legally binding on all UN members.
“We hope they take the time to read the resolution... we feel this resolution also addresses the needs of Israeli children. Children are innocent vulnerables and must be treated as such,” she said.
The next step would be for the UN Secretary-General to report orally to Security Council members on the implementation of the resolution, she noted.
A toughened position
The Malta-drafted resolution was first circulated amongst UNSC members over the weekend by Malta’s ambassador Frazier, following weeks of conflict between Israel and Hamas which have seen thousands killed and displaced in the small Palestinian enclave.
“This resolution provides immediate relief to the families of hostages and to children caught in the conflict,” Frazier told Times of Malta. “That we managed to find consensus shows the brand that Malta has internationally.”
Minister Borg first hinted at the agreement during a speech in Parliament on Tuesday night, when he said Malta was playing an important role at the UN, coordinating resolutions within the UNSC.
Despite its constitutional neutrality, Malta’s stance towards Israel has hardened over the course of the conflict, which kicked off when Hamas militants attacked Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people and taking 240 people hostage.
Israel has responded with a massive air and ground offensive on Gaza and by cutting off major supplies to the densely populated enclave.
Its attacks have killed more than 10,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians and among them 4,000 children.
In October, Borg called for a ceasefire and an independent investigation into the bombing of the Ahli Arab Hospital in central Gaza.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, Abela told a crowd of PL supporters that while Israel had a right to defend itself, this should never lead to the “butchering and massacring of innocent children, parents and civilians and the loss of so many innocent lives.”
At a meeting of the UNSC on Friday, Frazier expressed Malta’s grave concern at the continued deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
“Relentless siege and daily aerial bombardments in one of the most densely populated areas on earth means there are no safe zones,” Frazier said.
Calling Israeli strikes against hospitals in the region “deplorable”, she emphasised that medical facilities and staff are protected under international humanitarian law and should not be targeted.
Frazier told the UNSC that just before their meeting, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) had informed her staff of fighting in and around Al Shifa hospital, which houses around 4,000 patients. The hospital’s director of surgery had told her, “We don’t want to die here”, she said.
Over the last week, there have been widespread reports in international media of Israeli snipers and drones firing into Al Shifa hospital, heavily restricting the movements of staff and patients. Earlier on Wednesday, Israeli forces stormed the hospital.
Israel, meanwhile, claims Hamas have a headquarters beneath the hospital.
Calls to recall ambassador
Diplomatic sources said it had been a “very difficult weekend” for Maltese diplomatic staff, who had been contacted directly by medical staff working at Al Shifa, adding even representatives from the United States – traditionally a staunch ally of Israel – believed Israel’s actions had gone too far.
On Saturday, activists wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Robert Abela and the foreign minister urging them to recall Malta's ambassador in Tel Aviv amidst the worsening conditions in Gaza.
The letter was endorsed by more than 150 members of Maltese civil society and a number of organisations, with President Emeritus Marie Louise Coleiro Preca among the signatories.
Speaking to Times of Malta, diplomatic sources expressed scepticism at the possibility, noting that recalling an ambassador was considered a “big statement” on the international floor. They added this had not happened in the case of Russia, following its war against Ukraine.