By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -The United States vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution on Wednesday that would have called for humanitarian pauses in the conflict between Israel and Palestinian Hamas militants to allow humanitarian aid access to the Gaza Strip.
The vote on the Brazilian-drafted text was twice delayed in the last couple of days as the United States tries to broker aid access to Gaza. Twelve members voted in favor of the draft text on Wednesday, while Russia and Britain abstained.
"We are on the ground doing the hard work of diplomacy," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told the 15-member council after the vote. "We believe we need to let that diplomacy play out."
"Yes, resolutions are important. And yes, this council must speak out. But the actions we take must be informed by the facts on the ground and support direct diplomacy efforts. That can save lives. The council needs to get this right," she said.
Washington traditionally shields its ally Israel from any Security Council action.
"We have just been witnesses once again of hypocrisy and the double standards of our American colleagues," said Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia. A Russian-drafted resolution that called for a humanitarian ceasefire failed to pass on Monday.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to allow for the release of hostages and humanitarian aid access to Gaza.
Russia said it had now asked for the 193-member U.N. General Assembly to be convened for an emergency special session on the conflict. It could decide to put a draft resolution to a vote there, where no countries hold a veto power. General Assembly resolutions are non-binding, but carry political weight.
U.N. Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland told the council that there is "very real, and extremely dangerous" risk of an expansion of the conflict.
"I fear that we are at the brink of a deep and dangerous abyss that could change the trajectory of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, if not of the Middle East as a whole," said Wennesland, addressing the council via video from Doha.
China's U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun accused the United States of leading council members to believe the resolution could be adopted after it did not express opposition during negotiations. He described the vote as "nothing short of unbelievable."
Thomas-Greenfield said the United States was disappointed the draft resolution made no mention of Israel's rights of self defense and she blamed Hamas for the Gaza humanitarian crisis.
"We're working with Israel, its neighbors, the United Nations and other partners to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. It is critical that food, medicine, water and fuel begin flowing into Gaza as soon as possible," she said. "Hamas' own actions have brought this on – this severe humanitarian crisis."
International diplomacy has focused on trying to broker a humanitarian pause in the conflict near the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza to allow the delivery of aid. Egypt says Rafah has not been officially closed but has become inoperable due to the Israeli air strikes on the Gaza side.
U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths told the Security Council on Wednesday: "We urgently need a mechanism agreed by all relevant parties to allow for a regular provision of emergency needs throughout Gaza."
The draft resolution also urged Israel - without naming it - to rescind its order for civilians and U.N. staff in Gaza to move to the south of the Palestinian enclave and condemns "the terrorist attacks by Hamas."
Israel last week ordered some 1.1 million people in Gaza - almost half the population - to move south as it prepares for a ground offensive in retaliation for the worst Hamas attack on civilians in Israel's 75-year-old history.
"Quite frankly, we do not know how many have moved from the north to the south to get out of harm's way," Griffiths said. "Whether civilians move or stay, and that must be their decision ... they must be protected."
Israel has put Gaza under a total siege and subjected it to intense bombardment. It has vowed to annihilate Hamas after the Islamist militant group killed 1,400 people and seized hostages in an Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Palestinian officials say more than 3,000 Palestinians have been killed.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Howard Goller and Deepa Babington)