BREAKING – Israel Wins WHA Approval of Hostage Reference in Draft Decision on Health in Occupied Palestinian Territories

Israel scored a tactical victory Wednesday evening when World Health Organization (WHO) member states agreed in a vote of 50-44 to amend a draft decision denouncing the health situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, with a reference calling for the release of some 125 Israeli hostages still held by Hamas. Another 83 member states were absent or abstained from the politically-charged vote.

The original draft WHA decision was led by Algeria and supported by some 35 member states, including Russia, Egypt, Colombia, Cuba, Venezuela, and Iran.

The decision denounces  “acts of violence,” the “use of starvation of civilians” and the “wanton destruction of health facilities”  –  and calls upon the “occupying power” to fulfill its obligations under international law,” including replenishment of medical supplies, safe passage of fuel and health supplies and additional humanitarian assistance.  

WHA debate on issue adjourns while member states debate next moves

South Africa’s delegate speaks on behalf of the original resolution condemning the health situation in Gaza, and other Israeli-occupied territories.

As of publication, it was unclear if the draft decision, with the amendment referring to Israeli hostages, would indeed be brought to a vote.  Immediately following the vote on the amendment, Egypt, on behalf of the co-sponsors, requested that it be withdrawn altogether.

However, WHO rules would require Israel’s agreement to withdraw the Algerian-led resolution, now that Israel’s amendment has been approved.  Ultimately, the WHA debate on the draft decision was adjourned until later Friday. That leaves both Israeli delegates and the resolution’s supporters, including sworn enemies such as Iran, unsure of what to do next. Neither side will want to cede more diplomatic points to the other.

At the debate preceeding the vote on the amendment, dozens of member states, from Africa, Latin America, Asia and Europe, as well as Palestine that holds observer status, deplored the humanitarian situation that has been created by Israel’s war on Hamas in Gaza, including the interruptions in humanitarian aid, destruction of health facilities, and the recent deaths of displaced Palestinian civilians sheltering in a supposedly safe zone near Rafah from a nearby Israeli aerial bombing.

“The international community should exert all efforts through the various instruments at our disposal to improve the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Gaza,” said South Africa’s delegate to the Assembly, referring to South Africa’s case against Israel for alleged genocide before the International Court of Justice.

Israeli Ambassador to Israel, Meirav Eilon Shahar calls for a vote over an amendment on Israeli hostages held by Hamas.

Speaking to the assembly, Israeli Ambassador Meirav Eilon Shahar said  “a decision that does not also condemn the militarization of health facilities by terrorists in Gaza has no intention of improving the health conditions on the ground… A decision on health that does not demand the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages – who are held by a terrorist organization, raped and tortured – is an unforgivable moral failure.”

Wednesday’s debate was only the first of two scheduled by the assembly on the war in Gaza and its humanitarian fallout, which has led to the displacement of over 1 million Palestinians, and over 34,000 deaths, along with severe hunger and malnutrition in parts of Gaza.  Some 1,200 Israelis died and more than 250 were taken hostage during the October 7 Hamas incursion into Israeli communities that triggered Israel’s invasion of Gaza.  While an estimated 125 hostages, including over a dozen sick and elderly people, young women, and several young children are still being held in Gaza, it’s unclear how many are still alive.

Second Gaza resolution has wider support

A second draft resolution  on Gaza, to be considered tomorrow, has much wider WHA suport and is likely to be adopted by consensus.  It makes a call on “all parties to fully comply with their obligations” under the 1949 Geneva conventions, and ensure “unimpeded, safe, and unobstructed” passage for medical personnel.” 

That resolution, which was the focus of a special session of WHO’s Executive Board on 10 December, was approved by consensus, including with support from the United States, Israel’s closest ally, in what was then a first such vote in the UN system. 

That draft resolution to be considered Friday, makes no direct mention of either the Israeli  hostages or Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. 

But Article 2  “reaffirms that all parties to armed conflict must comply fully with the obligations applicable to them under international humanitarian law related to the protection of civilians in armed conflict and medical personnel.”

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