A long-standing resolution urging WHO action on towering health needs in the Palestinian territories hung in the balance on Friday, after Israel secured an amendment requiring the text to mention hostages held in Gaza.

The largely technical text presented on Wednesday by a group of Arab countries, including the Palestinians, to the World Health Organization’s supreme decision-making body, had been expected to pass easily, as similar resolutions have passed annually for more than 50 years.

But before the text could go to a vote, Israel surprisingly secured enough support to demand that it be amended to include a call for the release of the hostages held in Gaza, and a condemnation of the militarization of hospitals in the territory by Hamas.

The Arab Group then attempted to retract the resolution, but was informed that doing so once an amendment had already been voted through was against the rules.

It remained unclear what would happen on Friday, when the issue once again comes to the floor of the World Health Assembly – the annual gathering in Geneva of the WHO’s 194 member states.

One option for Arab countries was to vote against their own resolution to avoid approving a text including the Israeli amendment.

But it appeared they would rather try to push through an amendment of their own, beefing up criticism of Israel in the resolution.

Prior to the amendments, this year’s draft text urged a donor conference to address soaring health needs in Gaza and across the Palestinian territories.

It also requested reporting on the dire health crisis in Gaza, including on Israel’s “wanton destruction of health facilities” in the coastal strip.

Before voting began on Wednesday, Israel’s Ambassador Meirav Eilon Shahar told the assembly that any decision “that does not demand the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages is an unforgivable moral failure.”

A majority of countries had been expected to vote down Israel’s amendment.

But after Shahar demanded a roll-call vote, meaning each state had to publicly announce its stance, it became clear that it would be tight.

Basically, all Arab and Muslim countries opposed the amendment, supported by, among others, heavyweights China and Russia.

The United States and most European nations backed it, while the picture was mixed elsewhere.

In the end, the amendment passed, with 50 votes in favor and 44 opposed, while 83 countries were either absent or abstained.

With AFP