The UN Security Council has called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza that Arab nations hope will put an end to Israel’s 14-day assault on the territory.
The resolution, passed on Thursday with 14 votes in favour and only the US abstaining, "stresses the urgency of and calls for an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza".
The resolution also called for arrangements in Gaza to prevent arms smuggling to Palestinian fighters and reopen border crossings.
It said there should be "unimpeded provision" and distribution of aid to the territory, where more than 763 Palestinians have been killed since Israel launched its offensive.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said he was "heartened and relieved" by the passing of the resolution.
The UN chief, who will visit the Middle East next week for talks on the crisis, said the UN "stands ready" and that a ceasefire would be a "first step", but that "a political way forward is required to deliver long-term security and peace".
The text was the product of days of tortuous negotiations between top diplomats from the United States, Britain and France and Arab states.
Arab countries, many facing strong anti-Israeli sentiment at home, insisted the Security Council must issue a binding resolution that would force Israel to end its military campaign in the Gaza Strip immediately.
Israel had opposed the idea of a binding UN resolution.
The United States had backed its ally Israel but diplomats said it dropped its objections and agreed to go along with a cautiously worded text.
Despite the abstention, Rice said the United States supported the contents of the resolution.
"The United States thought it important to see the outcomes of the Egyptian mediation efforts in order to see what this resolution might have been supporting," she said.
But Riad al-Maliki, the Palestinian foreign minister, seemed less than convinced that the UN resolution would bring about an immediate end to violence in Gaza.
He said he feared that the Israelis would expand their Gaza offensive in the next few days, to hit more targets before any truce comes into effect.
Al Jazeera’s Ghida Fakhry, reporting from the UN, said the resolution was only a partial victory for Arab leaders, who succeeded in pushing through a resolution when the US and other nations were keener on issuing a non-binding "presidential statement".
But they were also frustrated that an earlier Libya proposal was abandoned in favour for the US, UK and France resolution, our correspondent added.
Fakhry said it was "difficult to see how this [the resolution] is going to be enforced given the fact that the United States has decided to abstain thereby sending a clear signal that it will not do anything whatsoever to pressure its closest ally [Israel]".
Though the UN resolution is legally binding, it does not have any enforcement mechanism, and Israel has ignored dozens of UN resolutions over the years, our correspondent said.
It was also unclear whether Hamas would accept a text which does not mention the lifting of Israel’s 18-month blockade on Gaza, which it has demanded, she added.
Israel as a member state of the United Nations they have to really adhere to the resolution and the moment that they do so I believe Hamas will do the same.
Al Jazeera understands that the French delegation had asked for another 24 hours to work out the draft resolution, drawing a furious response from the Saudi delegation, who said that they would not wait any longer as civilians were dying by the minute.
An agreement was finally reached after Arab foreign ministers made some amendments to the draft sponsored by the US, UK and France, allowing them to get on board with the draft and drop their bid to support another draft resolution sponsored by Libya.
Libya, currently the only Arab nation serving as a non-permanent member of the security council, had been urging council members to back its own version of a resolution, although the US had blocked an earlier Libyan draft that Washington and its allies saw as being anti-Israeli.
More than 763 Palestinians have been killed, including more than 200 children, since the Israeli offensive began on December 27. More than 3,121 people have also been wounded.
Eight Israeli soldiers and three civilians have died in the same period.
(Aljazeera.net English and Agencies)