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US pushes UN to back Israel self-defense, demand Iran stop arms to Hamas

FILE PHOTO: United Nations Security Council meeting on the conflict between Israel and Hamas at U.N. headquarters in New York

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States proposed on Saturday a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that says Israel has a right to defend itself and demands Iran stop exporting arms to "militias and terrorist groups threatening peace and security across the region."

The draft text, seen by Reuters, calls for the protection of civilians - including those who are trying to get to safety - notes that states must comply with international law when responding to "terrorist attacks", and urges the "continuous, sufficient and unhindered" delivery of aid to the Gaza Strip.

It was not immediately clear if or when the United States planned to put the draft resolution to a vote. To pass, a resolution needs at least nine votes in favor and no vetoes by Russia, China, the United States, France or Britain.

The move by the United States comes after it vetoed a Brazilian-drafted text on Wednesday that would have called for humanitarian pauses in the conflict between Israel and Palestinian Hamas militants, to allow aid access to Gaza.

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield justified Wednesday's veto by telling the council more time was needed for diplomacy on the ground as President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the region, focused on brokering aid access to Gaza and trying to free hostages held by Hamas.

Hamas released two American hostages on Friday and the first humanitarian aid convoy arrived in Gaza from Egypt on Saturday.

Israel has vowed to wipe out the Hamas Islamist group that rules Gaza, after its gunmen burst through the barrier fence surrounding the enclave on Oct. 7 and rampaged through Israeli towns and kibbutzes, killing 1,400 people.

Israel has since pounded Gaza from the air, imposed a siege and is preparing for a ground offensive. Palestinian authorities say more than 4,000 people have been killed in the enclave. The U.N. says more than a million have been made homeless.

The U.S. draft text does not call for any pause or truce in the fighting. It calls on all states to try and stop the "violence in Gaza from spilling over or expanding to other areas in the region, including by demanding the immediate cessation by Hezbollah and other armed-groups of all attacks."

Lebanon's Iran-backed, heavily armed Hezbollah group has clashed with Israel across the Lebanese border multiple times since Oct. 7 in the deadliest confrontations since they fought a month-long war in 2006.

SELF-DEFENSE

The U.S. draft resolution demands Iran stop exporting arms to groups threatening peace and security across the region, including Hamas. Iran's mission to the U.N. in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Iran has made no secret of its backing for Hamas, funding and arming the group and another Palestinian militant organisation Islamic Jihad. Iran's mission to the U.N. said on Oct. 8 that Tehran was not involved in the Hamas attack on Israel a day earlier.

Thomas-Greenfield said on Wednesday that the U.S. was disappointed the Brazilian draft did not mention Israel's right to self defense. The U.S. text states that Israel has such a right under Article 51 of the founding U.N. Charter.

Article 51 covers the individual or collective right of states to self-defense against armed attack and states must immediately inform the 15-member Security Council of any action that states take in self-defense against armed attack.

In a letter sent the same day as the Hamas attack, Israel told the council it would "act in any way necessary to protect its citizens and sovereignty from the ongoing terrorist attacks originating from the Gaza Strip." But it does not appear to have formally invoked Article 51, diplomats said.

Arab countries have argued that Israel cannot justify its actions as self-defense.

"The Gaza Strip is an occupied territory," Jordan's U.N. Ambassador Mahmoud Daifallah Hmoud told the council on Monday, citing a 2004 opinion by the International Court of Justice on an Israeli separation barrier built around the West Bank.

"We recall the advisory opinion of the ICJ ... according to which Israel does not have the right to defend itself within occupied Palestinian territory," he said, speaking on behalf of the Arab group.

Israel said in 2004 that the barrier was meant to keep suicide bombers out of its cities. The ICJ said Israel "states, the threat which it regards as justifying the construction of the wall originates within, and not outside, that territory."

"Consequently, the Court concludes that Article 51 of the Charter has no relevance in this case," it ruled. Israel rejected the ICJ ruling.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)