By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -The United Nations General Assembly on Friday overwhelmingly called for an immediate humanitarian truce between Israel and Palestinian militants Hamas and demanded aid access to the besieged Gaza Strip and protection of civilians.
The resolution drafted by Arab states is not binding but carries political weight, taking the global temperature as Israel steps up ground operations in Gaza in retaliation for the worst Hamas attack on civilians in Israel's 75-year-old history.
It passed to a round of applause with 120 votes in favor, while 45 abstained and 14 - including Israel and the United States - voted no. Iraq later changed its vote to yes from an abstention after complaining of a technical difficulty, so the final tally was 121 votes in favor and 44 abstentions.
A two-thirds majority was needed for the resolution to pass, in which abstentions do not count. The General Assembly voted after the Security Council failed four times in the past two weeks to take action.
"It sends the message to everyone enough is enough. This war has to stop, the carnage against our people has to stop and humanitarian assistance should begin to enter the Gaza Strip," Palestinian U.N. envoy Riyad Mansour told reporters.
Israel's U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan rejected the resolution, saying the U.N. no longer holds any legitimacy or relevance and accused those who voted yes of preferring to support "the defense of Nazi terrorists" instead of Israel.
"This ridiculous resolution has the audacity to call for truce. The goal of this resolution truce is that Israel should cease to defend itself to Hamas, so Hamas can light us on fire," he told the General Assembly after the vote.
A Canadian-led bid to amend the resolution to include a rejection and condemnation of the "terrorist attacks by Hamas ... and the taking of hostages" failed to get the two thirds majority needed, garnering 88 votes in favor, 55 against and 23 abstentions.
ASSEMBLY STRESSES PREVENTING WIDER WAR
As fears grow that the conflict could spark a wider war, the assembly stressed the "importance of preventing further destabilization and escalation of violence in the region" and called on "all parties to exercise maximum restraint and upon all those with influence on them to work toward this objective."The General Assembly called on Israel to rescind its order for civilians in Gaza to move to the south of the enclave. Israel ordered some 1.1 million people in Gaza - almost half the population - to move south on Oct. 12.
The General Assembly also "firmly rejects any attempts at the forced transfer of the Palestinian civilian population."
Israel has vowed to wipe out Hamas, which rules Gaza, after the militants killed 1,400 people and took hundreds of hostages in an Oct. 7 attack. Israel has struck Gaza from the air, imposed a siege and is preparing a ground invasion. Palestinian authorities say more than 7,000 have been killed.
The General Assembly called for "the immediate and unconditional release of all civilians who are being illegally held captive." It did not name Hamas anywhere in the text.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Grant McCool)