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On 7 October 2023, the Palestinian group Hamas, officially designated a terrorist group by many countries including Israel, the United States, the European Union, and the United Kingdom, commenced an armed assault against Israel. It launched several thousand rockets into Israel and conducted attacks in border areas, killing around 1,200 civilians, and taking 253 hostages, as part of what it called “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood”.

In response to the assault, Israel conducted air strikes against Hamas in Gaza and on 28 October launched a ground attack to “destroy Hamas’ governing and military capabilities and to bring the hostages home”. 

This briefing describes the actions and response of the UN Security Council, International Court of Justice, and International Criminal Court, as well as the United States, European Union, Middle Eastern states, and armed actors supported by Iran (including Hezbollah in Lebanon).

For information on the situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Israeli Government and Palestinian Authority statements on the conflict, and the UK response, see the Commons Library research briefing 2023/24 Israel-Hamas conflict: UK actions and response.

UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions  

Resolutions of the UNSC require 9 of the Councils’ 15 members to vote in favour with no vetoes by the permanent members (United States, UK, France, China, and Russia). It has passed three binding resolutions since 7 October:

Israel has criticised the resolutions and argues that passed in March “gives Hamas hope” UNSC action will enable a ceasefire without the release of hostages. The Palestinian Authority has called for an “immediate ceasefire, humanitarian assistance at scale, and no forced displacement [from Gaza]”. Negotiations for the release of hostages and pause in fighting are ongoing and are being facilitated by Egypt and Qatar.

On 18 April, the US vetoed a resolution recognising a Palestinian state through full UN membership. The UK abstained, arguing “we must keep our focus on securing an immediate pause” for the release of hostages and delivery of aid.  

International Court of Justice case

In January 2024, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued preliminary (emergency) measures on a case brought against Israel by South Africa alleging Israel was breaching its obligations under the Genocide Convention (PDF). The case will likely last several years.

The ICJ did not order a ceasefire, as requested by South Africa, but set out certain steps for Israel to take, including increasing humanitarian aid to Gaza and taking “all measures” to prevent the “commission of genocidal acts”. Israel argues the case is a “distort[ion]” of the convention. Both South Africa and the Palestinian Authority have said Israeli military operations must end.

On 28 March, the ICJ issued additional provisional measures reaffirming those issued in January and stating Israel should take all necessary and effective steps to ensure the “unhindered provision at scale” of humanitarian aid. The Israeli Government said it was working on new initiatives and the expansion of existing ones to further the flow of aid into Gaza.

How has the United States responded?

President Biden condemned the Hamas assault and said the US would “stand with Israel”. The US has deployed additional military forces to the region to prevent escalation. It is also the  largest supplier of arms to Israel. US aircraft helped intercept Iranian missiles targeting Israel on 13 April.

In 2024, the Biden Administration has supported a ceasefire to allow the release of hostages and has called for a scaling up of aid to Gaza. In 2023, it had said ceasefire talks would only be held once all hostages are released.

The Biden Administration opposes a major Israeli offensive in Rafah without steps being taken to protect civilians. In May, Mr Biden said the US would not supply further munitions to Israel of the type that have “been used historically” in Rafah if Israel conducts a major offensive there. Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, said the decision was “difficult and very disappointing”.

The US Administration has announced additional sanctions against Hamas and those that fund it. In response to an increase in Israeli settler violence against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank, the US has also announced visa restrictions and sanctions against some of those involved.

How has the European Union responded?

The European Union condemned the Hamas assault on 7 October and said Israel had the right to defend itself, in line with international law. It has announced new sanctions targeting Hamas and against some Israeli settlers involved in West Bank violence.

France has deployed additional military assets and supported the defence of Israel against Iran on 13 April. Germany is the second largest exporter of arms to Israel (providing 30% of Israeli arms imports from 2019 to 2023, compared to 60% from the US).

Several EU states, including Spain, have suggested they may take steps to recognise a Palestinian state in 2024.

What is the response of Middle East states?

The Gulf Cooperation Council (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman, and Kuwait) have called for an immediate ceasefire an increase in aid, and said there should not be an Israeli offensive in Rafah, where the majority of the Palestinian population in Gaza has been displaced to. The Arab League, which also includes Egypt and Lebanon, agrees.  

Qatar and Egypt are acting as mediators between Hamas and Israel, and Qatar and Turkey have both hosted Hamas leaders. Qatar has said Hamas’s presence is supportive of political negotiations, but it has been subject to US pressure for Hamas to leave the country following the conflict.

The UAE and Bahrain maintain diplomatic relations with Israel, which were established in 2020. Talks are reportedly continuing for a similar agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel, conditional on making progress on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a Saudi-US defence pact, and a civilian nuclear programme in Saudi Arabia.

Actions of Iran, Hezbollah, and armed groups

Since 7 October, Iran-supported armed groups, including Hezbollah in Lebanon (a proscribed terrorist group in the UK), Shia militias in Iraq and Syria and the Houthis in Yemen have been launching attacks against Israel, US bases, and civilian shipping in the Red Sea. On 13 April, Iran launched its first direct attack against Israel in response to a strike on its Syrian consulate, which it blamed on Israel (Israel has not confirmed nor denied the strike).

From Lebanon, Hezbollah has launched attacks against Israel. Civilians on both sides of the border have been displaced and attacks continue. International negotiations are focused on securing a withdrawal of Hezbollah away from the border under UN Security Council Resolution 1701, made in 2006 following the Israel-Hezbollah conflict. Israel says it will take further military action if a diplomatic solution to the conflict cannot be found.

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