DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Ahmad Fawzi, Director, News and Media Division, Department of Public Information (DPI), and United Nations Spokesman on the Middle East.
Good afternoon. We expect to have with us shortly the Director of the News and Media Division of the Department of Public Information, Ahmad Fawzi, who will talk to you a bit about the developments in the Middle East.
**Statement on Sri Lanka
First off, I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on Sri Lanka:
“The Secretary-General is very concerned about the increasing violence in Sri Lanka, and the escalation that has resulted from a water dispute in the north-east. He is disturbed by reports that there have been many civilian victims, including children, as well as large displacements of people. He calls on all the parties to allow humanitarian agencies unimpeded access to the affected population.
“The Secretary-General notes the efforts under way by Norway to resolve the conflict, and calls on the parties to cease hostilities immediately to create a conducive climate for negotiations over the water issue. He reiterates his appeal to the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to resume peace talks.”
And that statement is available upstairs.
The Secretary-General has just arrived in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, where he is to meet later this afternoon with President René Préval and other senior officials.
While in Haiti, he will also meet with the staff of the UN peacekeeping mission to that country.
The trip to Haiti has been abbreviated a bit, since the Secretary-General had to reschedule his departure until this morning, after the plane that he was on yesterday was unable to take off due to a technical problem.
Tomorrow, he is scheduled to meet President Leonel Fernandez in an official visit to the Dominican Republic.
As for the Security Council, the Council is holding consultations this morning on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Lebanon and other matters.
Regarding the DRC, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno briefed on the country’s recent elections. Then after consultations, the Council is later expected to move into a formal meeting to adopt a presidential statement on that topic.
On Lebanon, the Council will be briefed by Guéhenno on the continuing heavy exchanges of fire between the Israeli Defense Forces and Hizbollah along the entire length of the Blue Line.
The Security Council will also hear from Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Margareta Wahlström on the humanitarian situation in Lebanon.
And, I believe, Mr. Fawzi will have more to tell you about the humanitarian situation in the region in just a few minutes.
On Nepal, the visit of the UN assessment mission concluded today with a sense of “cautious optimism,” according to a statement by team leader Staffan de Mistura.
After conducting extensive meetings and field visits, the mission settled on four concrete areas in which the UN, with the support of all sides, could positively contribute to the peace process. Those are: the management of arms and armies; electoral assistance; helping to monitor the code of conduct; and expanding human rights activities in Nepal.
The mission reports that all parties wanted to continue the peace process, and that all understood that the basis for going forward was the implementation of the Eight Point Agreement.
And we have more on this upstairs.
The Secretary-General, in a letter to the Security Council President that’s out on the racks today, asks the Council for a one-year extension of the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). The current mandate expires on 11 August.
The Secretary-General notes in the letter that the United Nations will provide strong support in developing an International Compact for Iraq, which he describes as a new partnership between Iraq and the international community. The Compact was formally launched last week.
He adds that the UN Mission in Iraq has further grown in size and expanded its activities beyond Baghdad, as far as the security situation permits. A total of 396 international civilian and military personnel are in the country now.
The United Nations Operation in Burundi (ONUB) today expressed its deep concern at the reports of a coup attempt and the consequent arrests of some political figures in the past few days in that country.
These events, the mission says, constitute a threat and may jeopardize the commendable achievements of the peace process in Burundi.
The UN mission is profoundly concerned about allegations of torture and reiterates its demand to the Government authorities for access to the detainees.
And we have a press release from the mission upstairs.
On Somalia, the United Nations today announced the appointment of Per Lindgärde as Deputy Special Representative for Somalia. Mr. Lindgärde is a Swedish national who has had a long career with the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
And we have a press release which includes his biographical data upstairs.
And lastly, some good news out of Afghanistan. UN Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan Ameerah Haq presented a trophy this morning to the winners of the first-ever Kabul Girls Football Competition. Haq calls the event a “milestone” for young Afghan women, who just five years ago were not even allowed to attend school, let alone play sports.
And we have a press release on that upstairs.
Are there any questions for me before we go onto Mr. Fawzi?
**Questions and Answers
Question: I just wanted to ask you about the situation in Iraq. I mean, since Lebanon, Iraq is suddenly disappearing off the radar screen. Even the United Nations seems to be talking less about it in the last two months. I think almost 10,000 people have been killed in Iraq, and we haven’t much from the United Nations about this. Could you have somebody brief us as to what could happen, as far as Iraq is concerned?
Associate Spokesman: We’ll try and do what we can to give you a briefing about the situation. As far as Iraq goes, however, we have been keeping up our activities. Like I said, just last week we launched with the Government of Iraq, the International Compact for Iraq, which is designed to move the country forward over the next five years. Even the figure you gave about the number of people being killed, I believe, was taken out of one of the latest bimonthly human rights reports that the UN Mission in Iraq puts out.
And like I said, the Secretary-General has a letter to the Council. And if you look at that letter that’s up on the racks today, you’ll see that he details a number of things that the Mission has been doing, as well as calls for a one year extension of that mission.
Question: On Sri Lanka, does the UN have a role beyond expression of concern, or it remains a Norwegian initiative?
Associate Spokesman: For Sri Lanka right now, the initiative is led by Norway. There have been other diplomats from different areas, from other countries, including Japan, who have also been trying to move the process along. But, Norway is in the lead for now, and what we’re trying to do is support their efforts and encourage both the Government and the Tamil Tigers to keep up with the peace process amid the signs that the situation is in fact worsening and the parties might be returning to a wider conflict.
Question: On Darfur, I’ve seen the Secretary-General’s report. And there’s an article today on Reuters quoting the main advisor to the President of Sudan, saying that the Darfur Peace Agreement would make UN troops illegal under the Agreement, and accusing the UN of cash-starving the AU force so that there would be no choice except a transition to a UN troop -- basically, thumbing their nose totally. This report and the response by the Sudanese Government don’t seem to jibe.
Associate Spokesman: Well, first of all, the report -- I think I’ll have more to say about the report once it’s out as a document. I know it’s gone to the Security Council and a number of you have it, but, we’re waiting for it to become a document.
As for these comments, I’m not aware of the specific comments that you just brought up, but certainly, it would be very strange to accuse the UN of trying to starve the African Union [ Mission] of cash when we have repeatedly encouraged nations to contribute to the African Union.
And just a few weeks ago, as you know, the Secretary-General was in Brussels where he co-chaired a pledging conference that was designed specifically to get money for the African Union to continue its work. And, as a result of that pledging conference, I believe we have enough pledges that its work can continue through, I believe, the end of October. And of course we’re still hoping for more than that. We want it to be able to continue at least through the end of this year.
Question: Have you received any positive responses from Sudan or does this published report indicate -– does the UN have reason to believe that there’s actually a more positive response by the Government of Sudan to troops?
Associate Spokesman: Well, as you know, we continue our efforts with the Government of Sudan to see whether we can get progress towards a United Nations force in Darfur. The Security Council, as you know, is still considering having a UN force in Darfur and will keep up with these efforts.
Certainly, we already have a Mission in Sudan, southern Sudan, and we have hope that the Government of Sudan appreciates the work that that Mission has been doing in helping to stabilize that situation. And, we could do more as well to help the situation in Darfur, if given the chance.
Question: On the issue of this, I don’t know what it is -- the initiative between the UN and Iraq -- I asked Mark Malloch Brown’s staff a couple weeks ago for some sort of briefing about this. So far, it’s been announced, but no one is actually willing to discuss what it entails. Would it be possible to get him up here with you at some point to talk about the details of this compact?
Associate Spokesman: Well, I’ll see whether, certainly Masood has already asked for some sort of briefing. I’ll see whether we can get someone, possibly someone who’s involved with the Compact to give you a briefing. And we’ll try to do that.
Question: What’s going on with that? Is there –- the details haven’t been -– is it that they just haven’t been made public or they haven’t been…
Associate Spokesman: Well, if you look, on 27 July, just last week, Iraq and the United Nations came out with a joint press release. We still have copies of that, which gives you some of the details in terms of what this is meant to entail. And beyond that, at this stage now, we’ll follow-up. Having done the launch finally, we’ll try to proceed with actually having this fleshed out a little bit more. And, I’ll see whether I can get someone to talk to you about that.
And, if that’s it for me, Mr. Fawzi.
Briefing by Middle East Spokesman
Thanks a lot Farhan. Good afternoon everyone.
**Security Council/Middle East
As Farhan said, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, is in the Council briefing on a number of matters, including the Middle East. He updated them in this closed meeting on the continued violence in the Middle East. He also repeated the Secretary-General’s call for an immediate cessation of hostilities and the restoration of UNIFIL’s freedom of movement, and he emphasized the obligation of the parties to ensure the safety and security of United Nations personnel, among many other things. I don’t know –- has he left the Council yet?
Associate Spokesman: I don’t know. I think consultations are still going on.
Okay. I’d like to touch on the humanitarian side, if I may, briefly. Thousands of people have left Tyre. This is the city in the south that has become the hub for humanitarian activities in southern Lebanon -- so much so that over the past two days Tyre’s population has dwindled from what used to be over 100,000 to around 15,000. Tomorrow, we are sending a joint UN humanitarian assessment mission to Tyre.
WFP reports that a planned convoy from Beirut to Jezzine was postponed until tomorrow because WFP did not have the necessary armoured escort vehicles in Beirut.
Meanwhile, UNHCR is also helping. It’s been transforming an old railway depot in greater Beirut into a temporary for around 1,000 displaced people. And, they’ve also reported that yesterday they handed out a great deal of material, such as mattresses, blankets and kitchen sets in two Lebanese governorates.
WHO, the World Health Organization, is very concerned with water and sanitation problems that are increasing the risk of infectious diseases, especially since, in one of the schools that are sheltering displaced people, there’ve been reports of diarrhoea. And UNICEF notes that it has provided emergency supplies, and family packs to people made homeless by the bombardment of Qana. We’re talking blankets, buckets and the like.
This is a summary of what some of the agencies are doing. There’s more information available, of course, in their own press releases, which are available in the Spokesman’s Office.
I’d like to tell you about the oil slick because it’s an extremely dangerous feature of the damage that’s happening to the environment as a result of the war.
We’ve had reports from UNEP –- and you may have seen the press release they put out yesterday –- the UN Environment Programme. The oil spill, which was caused by Israeli bombings of a power plant, has reached the Syrian coastline. It has polluted over 80 kilometres of the Lebanese coastline, and now 10 kilometres of Syria’s coast, as well.
UNEP has called and is calling for urgent action to stem the damage, warning that the oil could spread further, causing even more pollution.
And, just to put things into context for you: it’s being equated to the Exxon Valdez spill. Between 10,000 and 30,000 tons of heavy fuel oil has leaked into the sea. As I said, Lebanese coast into the Syrian coast. Of course, the Lebanese coast is different than the Alaskan coast. UNEP is monitoring the situation very, very closely. They have offices in, monitoring this one, in particular, in Athens, and Manama, Bahrain, so they’re very close to the action.
There is the press release available upstairs in the Spokesman’s Office. There are two press releases, actually. One, dated 2 August, and another dated 13 July.
I’ll give you some news briefly from Gaza, and then take your questions. We have a joint statementthat was issued by our colleagues in Gaza from the United Nations humanitarian agencies working in the occupied Palestinian territory, which is hot off the presses, as they say, and reflects the realities on the ground. It’s in the Spokesman’s Office. And, in part, this is what it says:
“The agencies working in the occupied Palestinian territory are deeply alarmed by the impact continuing violence is having on civilians and civilian infrastructure in Gaza, which has resulted in a sharp decline in the humanitarian situation facing 1.4 million people, more than half of them children. We are concerned that with international attention focusing on Lebanon”, the statement says, “the tragedy in Gaza is being forgotten”.
Some of the figures that they mention since 28 June: 175 Palestinians have been killed, including approximately 40 children and eight women; and over 620 injured in the Gaza Strip. One IDF soldier has been killed, and 25 Israelis have been injured, including 11 Israelis injured by homemade rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. Palestinians have fired an average between eight to nine homemade rockets per day towards Israel, 319 in total since 28 June, and the Israeli military has fired an average 200 to 250 artillery shells per day into the Gaza Strip and conducted at least 220 aerial bombings.
The latest IDF incursion in the area around the Gaza airport overnight has left eight Palestinians dead, including a 12-year-old girl, and 20 injured. UNRWA, the Relief and Works Agency, estimates that at least 475 families have fled their homes in the area, and are now being sheltered in schools run by UNRWA in a border city or town of Rafah.
Conclusion: the facts speak for themselves. Closures must be lifted, bearing in mind, of course, Israel’s legitimate security concerns. Gaza must be given back the capacity to export its goods. Both the Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza and the shelling by the IDF must stop. The United Nations stands firmly by its commitments to uphold the right of both sides to live in peace and security.
This joint statement of two pages is available in the Spokesman’s Office. Thank you. Yes, please?
Question: Earlier in the briefing you said that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was transforming a railroad depot in Beirut into a shelter. I had a couple of questions. First of all, is there going to be anyone manning it? Who will be letting people in and determining whether or not they’re Hizbollah. The second this is, have you received any assurances from Israel Defense Forces (IDF) that they will not bomb the shelter? Are you going to paint the roof or distinguish the building in any way, based on what happened last Sunday?
Mr. Fawzi: Two very good questions, and I would guess that the answer is yes. I would have to speak to our people and see what their monitoring system is like for people entering the shelter. But, I’m fairly certain that they wouldn’t allow any military types in there. And secondly, it would be clearly identified as a place that shelters civilians. And we normally communicate with the Israelis in order to identify civilian positions. We have positions of the United Nations that are very well known, and, if we create a new one it will be very clearly identified.
Joe. Good morning.
Question: Thanks for waking me up. I presume the Israelis knew which way the water flowed before they bombed that fuel tank. Is there any chance it could reverse and go back to Israel where it came from? And my real question is how much… Who will pay for this cleanup? Will Israel be held responsible at some point?
Question: And to add to this, does UNEP have the professionals and the equipment to fight this terrible slick?
Mr. Fawzi: First of all, I have no comment on water flows, Joe. Who will pay? Of course -– and this dovetails into your question, Iftikhar -- UNEP has a certain amount of equipment, it has an oceanographic centre in Cyprus and a regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Centre for the Mediterranean Sea, but, certainly not the kind of resources that are needed to clean-up an oil spill like this. It’s going to have to be an international effort -– one that I’m sure UNEP will be spearheading. I urge you to get the press release if you haven’t seen it and, if there are any further questions, please contact UNEP. There’s a name and a number there for further information. I think that answers both your questions.
Question: So, I guess it’s too early to talk about war reparations?
Mr. Fawzi: Well, it’s never too early to talk about stopping the war to allow for humanitarian relief and reconstruction. Benny?
Question: Thank you, as always, for your balanced reporting on the suffering both in Lebanon and Gaza. Secondly, does the Secretary-General see any racial aspect in this war?
Mr. Fawzi: You neglected to say that I also mentioned the suffering in Israel.
Correspondent: But, after documenting how many shells Israel has and that sort of thing. But never mind. Go ahead.
Mr. Fawzi: Well, what I’m quoting to you are facts. Facts on the ground with reliable sources form all sides. I’m not going to get into an argument with you Benny. So, what was your question?
Question: Does the Secretary-General see a racial element to this crisis?
Mr. Fawzi: No, I haven’t discussed this with him.
Question: Why is it that in Geneva today, the Committee on racism (Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination) convened an emergency session on it?
Mr. Fawzi: I wasn’t aware that the Committee on Racism has convened an emergency session. Was it to discuss Lebanon?
Correspondent: Yes, on this war. I’m trying to figure out the racial aspect…
Mr. Fawzi: Well, we’ll have to ask the Committee on Racism. I’m not familiar with that. Masood?
Question: Two questions. First, you said that the number of residents in Tyre has gone from 100,000 to 15,000. Where are all these refugees going? Are they running towards Syria? I asked you -- about two days ago -- to give us something on how many times since its creation UNIFIL was hit by Israel and by Hizbollah. Do you have those figures?
Mr. Fawzi: No. I can talk to you about it a little later. You see, this is such a long period of time. Back in the 1970s, and 80s, and 60s when computers didn’t exist, our data bases don’t have accurate information about who did what. We have total numbers of casualties. We’re trying to research as much as possible to be as accurate as possible about the sides that caused the casualties. I’ll get back to you on that.
On Tyre, they’re all going north. Some of them may be going across the Syrian border and some may be going to towns in the north -- Beirut and above.
Question: Is anyone compiling any figures on this?
Mr. Fawzi: We can ask UNHCR, certainly, and I encourage you to do so too.
Question: In Malaysia at the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) meeting, Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries are calling for the UN to investigate this attack on Lebanon as a war crime, which the Human Rights Watch called for the day before yesterday. Does the Secretary-General have an opinion on that?
Mr. Fawzi: Well, the High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed an opinion on that. And her statement, which was issued immediately following the Qana massacre, is more or less along the lines that in order to establish the facts and conduct an impartial legal analysis of the persistent allegations of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law during this conflict as a whole, she reiterated the need for an independent investigation. She welcomed reports that Israel would conduct an inquiry into civilian deaths in Qana, but she repeated the need for independent investigations. And to this end, she advocated the active involvement of international expertise in any such investigation.
Question: Does the Secretary-General intend to appoint such a commission?
Mr. Fawzi: The statement doesn’t say so. We’d have to go back to the High Commissioner’s Office. I think we’re going to see a lot of such reporting and advice during the conflict, but, when the conflict ends there will be more in-depth looks at what was going on.
Question: The Acting Foreign Minister of Lebanon met with the Secretary-General Tuesday and yesterday to discuss the proposal. And yesterday, he sent a report on the fact-finding mission and investigation on the war. Do you have more information on this? Any official reaction to the meeting?
Mr. Fawzi: No, I don’t have a readout. Do you have anything, Farhan?
Associate Spokesman: Yes, I do. And, in fact, the Acting Foreign Minister thanked the Secretary-General for his efforts on Lebanon. It was simply a discussion of the diplomatic efforts under way to resolve the crisis in the region, including the work being done at the level of the Security Council. And, what the Secretary-General also mentioned was that he recalled that earlier this week he had urged the members of the Council to set aside their differences in order to deal with this crisis.
Question: What about the fact-finding missions?
Mr. Fawzi: Which fact-finding mission?
Correspondent: For the investigation into the war?
Mr. Fawzi: Which investigation?
Correspondent: The Lebanese asked the UN to set up a fact-finding mission to investigate this war.
Mr. Fawzi: On the war as a whole? No I don’t have anything on that, and I don’t think Farhan does. We’ll check with the Secretary-General’s Office and see if that was mentioned and what the reaction is.
Question: Regarding damage to the environment, there is something worse than the oil spill and that is the damage to old growth forests. There are trees that are 2,000 years old both in Lebanon and forest areas in the region, which incendiary bombs have set on fire. I’ve seen this on environmental internet sites. Does UNEP take a look at that?
Mr. Fawzi: I’m sure that UNEP looks at anything that affects the environment and human life.
Correspondent: It’s not human life, it’s plant life.
Mr. Fawzi: Yes, but it affects our lives. I’ll ask the question. It’s not in this press release, but, I’ll look into it and get back to you.
Question: Does the UN have any idea how many people are left in southern Lebanon or how many people have been displaced, I think the figure I said yesterday was something like 800,000 or 900,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs).
Mr. Fawzi: Well most of the people in Southern Lebanon, for one reason or another, are leaving their villages. Some of them don’t want to leave –- the elderly and others for personal reasons just don’t want to leave their homes. Tyre is just one example of a population falling from 100,000 to 15,000.
But, I don’t have a figure for you. I know that you’re asking for a figure, but it’s such a rapidly evolving figure it would be difficult to ascertain who remains now. The other difficulty is that we don’t have people in every village to conduct a census. But I’m sure that we could give a rough figure, if we go back to our people in the south and find out.
Question: Do you have a number about how many refugees are in Syria as opposed to elsewhere?
Mr. Fawzi: There are numbers in Syria, but I don’t know the exact figure, so I’ll have to ask UNHCR for you. I’ll do that and I’ll get back to you.
[The Spokesman’s Office later announced that, according to preliminary estimates there were between 140,000 and 150,000 displaced Lebanese in Syria at the moment. Some 5,000 Lebanese were arriving in Syria daily.]
Question: Just a couple questions from news reports that I’d like to get verified, and then, a couple of things that occurred to me on the Khyiam investigation. First, there was a statement this morning that the Government of Lebanon is a conduit to Hizbollah. Does that jibe with your understanding? Secondly the Lebanese Acting Foreign Minster said -- I believe Sunday -- that all foreigners were out of the south but, there were still some Lebanese there. Does that jibe with your understanding? If so why? My God, what kind of sovereign Government takes the foreign people out and leaves its own citizens in harm’s way to fend for themselves? On the Khiyam investigation, has the UN discovered the 4th body? Are there UN or Israeli investigators on the ground now working?
Mr. Fawzi: On Khiyam, no, we haven’t found the 4th body. We have found the mortal remains of three of the unarmed observers. We have been unable to continue the search because of continued shelling in and around the area. On your second question, about people being evacuated from the south, I think the Acting Foreign Minister is reassuring the international community that foreigners who wanted to leave have been evacuated and that assistance has been given by Lebanon and indeed by UNIFIL when requested. There are Lebanese citizens who remain there at there at their own will. And, it’s entirely up to the Lebanese Government, and, to the Lebanese people to decide where they want to live and where they want to move.
On your first question, Hizbollah is represented in the Government of Lebanon.
Question: Yes. But what about the idea that the Lebanese Government as a conduit to Hizbollah?
Mr. Fawzi: They are Lebanese. They are part of the population of Lebanon. They have cabinet ministers, they have members of parliament. Therefore, there is nothing secret or mysterious about it. They are a political entity that also has an armed military wing. So yes, the Government of Lebanon has of course, daily contacts with them and they are represented in the Government.
Question: Do you have any update on fuel getting in to Lebanon, as well as on hospitals? Two days ago you said that there were three hospitals without power, but it seems like it was a little more complicated than that… whether the ones that have not yet been closed have been closed. What’s the status?
Mr. Fawzi: Yes, as you said, it is complex and it hasn’t been easy for them. Some of the hospitals are struggling to keep operational. I’ll have to go back to World Health Organization (WHO) and find out the situation with those hospitals that had closed to see if they were able to reopen.
But, I know that the fuel situation is easing somewhat. We’re still waiting for those two ships from Cyprus to arrive in Beirut and unload there.
Question: Do you have any information about what’s going on on the diplomatic front to secure an immediate ceasefire? You have given a good update about the humanitarian situation in Palestine but, what about the financial situation because of aid being cut off?
Question: What about the power plant that was destroyed in Gaza? You said that Israel said it would repair the plant.
Mr. Fawzi: Diplomatically…I’m going to stay away from that one. I’ll tell you two words: Member. States. They’re engaged in the political discussions. On the financial situation, do you mean the financial situation of the Government of Lebanon or the Palestinians? No, I don’t have an update on that situation, but, I can get one certainly.
And Masood, I’m trying to quickly look through my notes…I don’t recall having said that.
Correspondent: No. Jan Egeland said that. And also, that Israel has accepted that it would help…
Mr. Fawzi: I’ll get you an update on that.
Question: It turns out that that power plant was insured by the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation. So, there’s some question as to whether the US would pay for that. It’s just some factual information so, perhaps not today, but whenever you can nail that down it would be great.
Mr. Fawzi: Ok. Yes, well, some investigative reporting for me.
Question: The Iranian President, who is supporting Hizbollah in all this, has said the only solution to the problem is the destruction of the “Zionist entity” Israel. Does the UN have any comment to his remarks? And in terms of Gaza, what is the UN doing about halting the rockets that have been fired at Israel that always prompt an Israeli response, and also, what about the two soldiers that this whole latest round of violence started with?
Mr. Fawzi: The statement that you quote by the Iranian President we certainly do not condone any…
Correspondent: He said that Israel must be destroyed and then a ceasefire…
Mr. Fawzi: Whose question am I dealing with now? Is it a joint question, in other words?
Question: Well, just let me incorporate that into my question. He said a ceasefire is part of the ultimate goal of destroying Israel. If you could comment on both aspects of that.
Mr. Fawzi: Not in our book. A ceasefire is not part of the destruction of any States. A ceasefire is to stop the killing. It is not to destroy anything. Let me be very clear. The Secretary-General is calling for a cessation of hostilities in order to achieve peace and security for both sides. Period. New paragraph. The statements of the President of Iran are not condoned by the United Nations or by anyone regarding the destruction of Israel, a Member State of this Organization. That’s very clear.
On rockets and the abducted soldiers…what is the United Nations doing to stop rockets being launched in Israel. The United Nations is talking to all sides on the ground, whether it’s Lebanon or Gaza. In this instance, you’re talking about the Palestinian territories.
The Secretary-General has a highly seasoned negotiator, diplomat, and mediator -- Alvaro de Soto –- who is Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Representative to the Palestinian Authority. He talks to them on a daily basis and our aim in this mediation is to stop the killing -- and that includes rockets from the territories and shelling from the Israeli side. So, we conduct that kind of diplomacy on a daily basis. On the abducted soldier, his fate is also part of the negotiations that are taking place, whether it is between the United Nations and the Palestinian Authorities, the United Nations and Israeli authorities.
Question: Is there anything that can give some hope…?
Mr. Fawzi: I only have a humanitarian update from Jerusalem. I’d be happy to go back to them.
Question: Is there a condemnation by the Secretary-General in response to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's statement forthcoming? Are we going to get something like that?
Associate Spokesman: The Secretary-General has repeatedly condemned the statements that Ahmadinejad has made. And those statements stand. He condemns any call for the destruction of any State. He also noted, by the way, that under the Charter, you do not threaten Member States. That stand has not changed and we can reiterate it today.
Mr. Fawzi: Shall we wrap this up? Richard?
Question: Did the Secretary-General talk to President Bush or Tony Blair in the last 24 hours about it? And, you said yesterday that Mr. Annan felt that the Council’s statement had been weak following his call for a cessation of hostilities on Sunday. So what does he think about this now, several days later, and the fact that it may take several weeks to get any kind of force to get any type of a force in there under a two-resolution concept? Is he happy with that timetable?
Mr. Fawzi: Yes. Yesterday, I referred to statements he had made on Wednesday in response to a question about the Council’s reaction and, he said it was weaker than he expected and that the majority of Member States had hoped. As you know he is on an official visit to Haiti at the moment to visit the UN peacekeeping mission there and to hold several official meetings. So, I know that he is monitoring very closely diplomatic and political developments, between capitals and here in New York, on the Security Council adopting resolutions to help resolve this conflict.
He’s watching them closely and with great anticipation. I don’t want to characterize his mood or to say how he feels about the pace of the negotiations, except to say that he is still of the view that there is a sense of urgency here to achieve an immediate cessation of hostilities that would lead to all the other steps that we spoke about. But, if I could just ask Farhan, do you have any news about telephone calls?
Associate Spokesman: No, there were no calls to Prime Minister Blair or other British officials. Yesterday, I believe there was a call with Secretary of State Rice.
Mr. Fawzi: All right. Last question. Benny?
Question: Can you cite the source for Mr. Annan’s figures in his speech to the Security Council on Sunday?
Mr. Fawzi: The Government of Lebanon.
Question: The Government of Lebanon said…
Mr. Fawzi: In fact, he said it in his speech.
Question: No he didn’t. He cited the Government of Lebanon as the source for large events but not the Qana incident, in which he said the majority of those killed were children. So, my question is what is the Lebanese Government’s source to determine which are civilians and which are Hizbollah fighters? That was the question I asked yesterday.
Mr. Fawzi: I didn’t get that last bit about the source of the Government of Lebanon.
Question: I asked how does one determine who was a combatant and who was a civilian?
Mr. Fawzi: Did you want to say something Farhan?
Associate Spokesman: In terms of the Government’s figures you’d have to ask them not us. As circumstances permit and as security situations on the ground permit, we do our best to verify the figures we get.
Question: How? Based on what? How do you do that?
Associate Spokesman: We have agencies on the ground, including UNIFIL. We try to verify as best we can. You make it sound like an impossible task, and I’m sure if you ask the Government of Lebanon rather than us, you’d get what their answer is on how they determine this.
Mr. Fawzi: Could we take the last question from here, and then we can continue this discussion outside the room.
Question: Have there been any recent talks between the Secretary-General and Syrian, and Iranian officials to resolve this issue?
Mr. Fawzi: The Secretary-General has had, as we told you before, a telephone call with the President of Syria early last week or late the week before. And he has since received a letter from President Assad, which was delivered by the new Ambassador when he delivered his credentials to the Secretary-General, I think it was last Friday. On Iran, he has spoken to the Foreign Minster as well and he will continue to follow-up.
Question: Was there a UN response to Israel’s version of the Qana report today?
Mr. Fawzi: We haven’t seen that yet, but as soon as we do, we’ll have a reaction.
Question: And, who is leading the inquiry for the UN?
Mr. Fawzi: We have nearly concluded the formation for that Board of Inquiry, so I don’t want to announce the names until it is official. It’ll probably be official by the end of the day today or early tomorrow.
Question: But isn’t there a report due on Monday?
Mr. Fawzi: No. The report that’s been requested of the Secretary-General –- I thought you were talking about the death of the unarmed observers, I’m sorry -– on Qana is due Monday, yes. But, that doesn’t involve a board of inquiry. This is a report into the circumstances surrounding the incident, according to the Council’s Presidential statement.
Question: You referred to it as the ‘Qana massacre’. Is that officially the way the UN describes it?
Mr. Fawzi: Did I say that?
Mr. Fawzi: Just now?
Mr. Fawzi: That was a slip of the tongue. It is not an official term. Thank you for correcting me.
Thank you. Good afternoon.
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