30 July 2006 Convening a meeting today of the Security Council, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said it must condemn last night's Israeli bombing of a village in southern Lebanon which left scores dead, and must call for an immediate cessation of hostilities, warning that a failure to act decisively would undermine the United Nations itself.
In his address to the Council, Mr. Annan also reported on demonstrations against the UN in Beirut, and appealed to all people everywhere to respect UN personnel.
“We meet at a moment of extreme gravity - first and foremost for the people of the Middle East, but also for the authority of this Organization, especially this Council,” said the Secretary-General, who, under Article 99 of the Charter, “may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.”
He said the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) no longer operates in Qana, which was bombed by Israel last night, and therefore had no personnel nearby at the time of the attack - “though Chinese engineers and two medical teams have now managed to reach the area.” They are helping to clear the rubble and giving treatment to survivors.
Citing preliminary reports from the Lebanese authorities, he said at least 54 people have been killed, among them at least 37 children “We must condemn this action in the strongest possible terms, and I appeal to you to do likewise,” said the Secretary-General, voicing dismay that his earlier calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities were not heeded.
“I repeat that call once again from this Council chamber, and I appeal to the Council to do likewise. And I send my deepest condolences to the families of all the victims of violence - in Lebanon, in Israel, and in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Gaza.”
He said the tragedy “has, rightly, provoked moral outrage throughout the world,” and expressed regret that some Lebanese broke into the UN headquarters in Beirut and briefly set fire to it. Three staff members were reported injured, none critically, and the fire was extinguished.
The Secretary-General expressed gratitude to for the Government of Lebanon for its assistance with the response. “The UN House is the hub of our humanitarian activities in Lebanon,” said Mr. Annan, pledging: “These will continue throughout the country.”
At the same time, he expressed fear that similar reactions could occur elsewhere in the region or in the wider Islamic world. “I appeal to the authorities and people in all countries to respect and ensure the safety of UN personnel. I appeal to everyone to understand that we are doing our best to help - through diplomacy, through humanitarian action and by the efforts of UNIFIL, which as you know itself suffered tragic losses only a few days ago,” he added. Four UN Military Observers lost their lives at Patrol Base Khiyam, in Southern Lebanon, on 25 July during an Israeli bombardment.
“The tragic events in Qana remind us that, ten years ago over 100 people who had taken refuge in this same village suffered a similar fate. We must deliver the region from this seemingly endless cycle of violence,” the Secretary-General told the Council, noting that in the last 18 days, several hundred Lebanese citizens have been killed - the vast majority of them civilians, and at least a third of them children. During the same period, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese have had to flee their homes, many of them under heavy shelling.
Meanwhile over 50 Israelis have died, including 19 civilians, and the population of northern Israel has been subjected to intense and continuous rocket fire, and thousands are now in shelters, he noted.
“It is important to stress that both sides in this conflict bear a heavy responsibility, and there is strong prima facie evidence that both have committed grave breaches of international humanitarian law.”
While “no one disputes Israel's right to defend itself,” the Secretary-General pointed out that “by its manner of doing so it has caused, and is causing, death and suffering on a wholly unacceptable scale.”
He recalled that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has reminded all parties that they may he held accountable for any breaches of international humanitarian law.
At the same time, he said the most urgent need now is to bring the fighting to a halt without further delay. “For that, this Council has a solemn responsibility,” he said, reiterating his call for an immediate cessation of hostilities to allow humanitarian relief to reach the victims.
“While that is happening, we can work together on the political framework needed for a lasting ceasefire and a sustainable solution: the strengthening of Lebanon's Government, the disarming of all militias, and the implementation of all Security Council resolutions.”
The Secretary-General pledged to work with the Council in the development and deployment of a stabilisation force to support the Government of Lebanon in its decision and responsibility to extend its authority throughout the country.
“I know there are differences among the Council's members about the precise sequence of actions needed. I beg you to set those differences aside, and come together on the most urgent point - the immediate cessation of hostilities,” he said.
Mr. Annan also reported that Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora said the country's Government will no longer engage in further diplomatic discussions, and efforts to find a solution, without a ceasefire.
In addition, the Secretary-General informed the Council that the Israeli Defence Forces have told UNFIL that they want the population of two villages, Ramyah and Ayta ash-Shab, to be evacuated before sunset today.
“Of course UNIFIL has refused to evacuate the villages indicating that they don't have the capacity and these requests have come where the assistance is required from the government of Lebanon,” he said. “This is something I thought you should know to let you understand the dynamics in the region and in the south.”
In closing, the Secretary-General framed the problem in the larger context of UN legitimacy. “The authority and standing of this Council are at stake. People have noticed its failure to act firmly and quickly during this crisis,” he said, offering the example of the attacks today on the UN in Beirut.
“For the sake of the people of the region and of this Organization, I urge you to act, and to act now.”