|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, and United Nations Spokesman on the Middle East.
The Secretary-General, of course, continues to monitor events that are happening on the ground in Lebanon, and he’s been very concerned about that. We may actually have a statement for you later in the day. I don’t have anything for you on that just yet.
Meanwhile, the Secretary-General is in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, today, where he and President Leonel Fernández have been participating in a forum dealing with the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals in that country. Later today, the Secretary-General will speak at a gathering organized by the Global Foundation on Democracy and Development, before attending a state dinner hosted by President Fernández.
Yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General met in Haiti with President René Préval, and he noted, in a joint press conference with the President, that Préval had asked him whether he would visit Haiti while the crisis in Lebanon persists. The Secretary-General replied, “I was determined to come, because your problems are important too.”
He said that, to reaffirm his belief that peacebuilding is a long-term proposition; he had asked the Security Council to extend UN operations in Haiti for 12 months. We have a transcript of that press encounter, upstairs.
The Secretary-General also met with UN staff while in Haiti, telling them: “We have made significant progress in ensuring a secure and stable environment for the political transition and the electoral process, but much remains to be done.” And, we have available copies of those remarks, as well as a statement he made talking to the Haitian national police yesterday evening.
On the Security Council, you know that the Security Council held consultations this morning on Lebanon and other matters. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, and Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Margareta Wahlström, briefed Council members on the latest developments on the ground.
Welcome, Mr. Fawzi.
Speaking to reporters afterward, the Council President, Ambassador Nana Effah-Apenteng of Ghana, said that Council members were concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Lebanon, with infrastructure being destroyed there. He urged States to be more generous in their response to the UN flash appeal for that country.
**Secretary-General’s Report on Darfur
Available on the racks, we have the latest report by the Secretary-General to the Security Council on Darfur, which provides the details on the Darfur Peace Agreement, and says that it presents a unique chance to avoid more violence there.
The Secretary-General recommends that the UN Mission in Sudan be expanded, starting at the beginning of next year, to promote and support the efforts of the parties to implement the Darfur Peace Agreement.
The Secretary-General presents three options for expanding the UN Mission, which would call for forces ranging from approximately 15,300 to approximately 18,600 troops, among other assets.
The Secretary-General says that the African Union Mission in Sudan cannot carry out its duties effectively with its current mandate and capabilities. At the same time, he says, the United Nations cannot take over full peacekeeping responsibilities until it has the consent and cooperation of the Government of Sudan.
He stresses that the agenda of the United Nations is strictly to deal with the urgent need to help the population in Darfur and prevent the crisis from spreading further. And he asserts that peace cannot take root in one part of Sudan while another part remains chronically unstable and prone to extreme violence. And we have that report out, upstairs on the racks.
Also out on the racks today is a report by the Secretary-General on justice and reconciliation for Timor-Leste.
In it, the Secretary-General recommends that the Indonesian and Timorese Governments continue their efforts to strengthen their respective judicial systems, particularly with respect to the prosecution of serious human rights violations committed in East Timor in 1999.
While he commends the two Governments for investing much effort in pursuing reconciliation, further cooperation will be required to bring those who committed serious crimes to justice, in keeping with international human rights standards.
And, in related news, the three Commissioners of the Independent Special Commission of Inquiry for Timor-Leste arrived today in Dili for their first visit. And we have more on that upstairs.
On Afghanistan, UNICEF reports today that schools in Afghanistan are becoming increasingly the targets of attacks, and noted that reported incidents have spread to all provinces and include 11 explosions, 50 school burnings, and 37 threats against schools and communities. Six children have died as a result of that violence.
While UNICEF and the Afghan Government are taking steps to protect students, the latest string of threats, intimidations and violent attacks are worrisome. UNICEF calls on all parties to cease targeting children, education works and schools.
And, since this is Friday, we also have upstairs for you the Week Ahead. Are there any questions for me before we turn to Mr. Fawzi?
**Questions and Answers
Question: I just want to ask you -– there’s a BBC report out that the European Union is considering pulling their food aid to Eritrea because the Eritrean Government has sort of changed, now their selling the food aid that they’re receiving. I was just wondering if the UN was also looking into their food aid that they’re giving to the Eritreans?
Associate Spokesman: Well, I can check further on that, but, for now, I haven’t seen any sign that we’re changing our posture regarding food aid. But, I will check on that further upstairs, afterwards.
[The Associate Spokesman later added that there was no change to the World Food Programme’s operations in Eritrea.]
Question: Does the Secretary-General have any comment on the latest escalation of violence in Lebanon that has begun?
Associate Spokesman: Mr. Fawzi will deal with that later, but, like I said, there’s also the possibility that we might have a statement later in the day that would respond to the latest escalation by the Secretary-General.
Question: Has the United Nations been in contact with Cuba about the state of its Government or the illness of its leader?
Associate Spokesman: We have no specific contact on that at this stage. Obviously, we wish the Cuban leader well, in terms of his health. But, in terms of contacts, our regular contacts are simply through the UN Mission by Cuba. Yes?
Question: Sure. There was a demonstration yesterday in South Africa –- several hundred Zimbabweans in front of the UN office in Pretoria –- asking the UN to take action on the report the Secretary-General commissioned about the housing demolitions operation, quote, “Clean Up the Trash in Zimbabwe”. So, I guess my question is, I e-mailed it to your office yesterday, asking for some kind of response on it. What is the Secretary-General’s…what does he intend to do about that report, if anything?
Associate Spokesman: Well, the Secretary-General, as you know, presented that report to the Security Council, and his Envoy, Anna Tibaijuka, presented that report to the Council last year. And, it is up to the Security Council to determine how to follow-up on the findings by that report. As you know, it was a very strict and severe look, which also included its own recommendations for what needs to be done. We have also been considering our own efforts on the ground there, but, for the time being, Zimbabwe has agreed to have a different envoy -- the former President of Tanzania, Benjamin Mkapa -- and for the time being, in terms of our efforts, what we’re trying to do is let President Mkapa go about, in terms of the necessary follow-up with the Government of Zimbabwe, and we’ll support, as needed, if we’re asked to do so in the future.
Question: I think that’s exactly what they’re asking, they were asking for the UN to do something. Now, Mr. Mkapa, there’s a perception that he’s…
Associate Spokesman: But, for the time being, what we want to avoid is a duplication of efforts and a confusing overlap, so, for the time being, the agreement is that President Mkapa will proceed with his own efforts to mediate the situation in Zimbabwe and, of course, we are always prepared to step in afterwards depending on the results of his own efforts. And, if that is it for me, Mr. Fawzi?
Briefing by Middle East Spokesman
Thank you Mr. Haq.
**Anticipated Statement from Secretary-General on Lebanon
As Farhan said earlier, we expect a statement from the Secretary-General very soon. He’s monitoring the situation in Lebanon very carefully from where he is at the moment, which is on a very brief visit to the Dominican Republic. And, he’s extremely concerned about the deterioration of the -- especially the humanitarian situation -- in Lebanon.
But let me tell you about the coordinator of the UN humanitarian activities in Lebanon, and what they have been saying about their inspection of activities in the south.
They deplored the continuation of Israeli bombardment of civilian infrastructure in Lebanon. Reported Israeli shelling, so far, seems to have cut our supply route to the north of the country, as you may have heard, where basic humanitarian needs have been transported to Beirut on its way south, or to meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of displaced people, who are going north. An assessment team is checking the road to see whether aid convoys can use it, but the convoy for today has been cancelled. Due to the bombardment of southern Beirut yesterday, most of the truck drivers didn’t report to work this morning, and another convoy to Tyre was also cancelled.
Let’s be very clear here: we do not have the humanitarian access we need for critical and vulnerable communities in south Lebanon. And, I was just informed that, even for the UN, material assistance within three or four days, unless they are able to replenish what they have, they will run out of stocks. So, that’s the difficulty that we’re dealing with there.
Overnight bombing of the highway north from Beirut to the Syrian border has cut the road in three or four places, and reportedly destroyed critical bridges. And, we’re concerned about construction along what has been the main supply route, as I said, as it will greatly hamper our ability to deliver essential goods and emergency personnel from the north and from across the border in Syria, and from our humanitarian hub in Arida.
Time is of the essence, and every delay is a setback to our urgent humanitarian work. Despite the roads’ damage, WFP, the World Food Programme, is still trying to get aid to those who need it. The WFP convoy planned for today, which is carrying supplies from several agencies -– UNDP, UNICEF, UNHCR, and WFP –- managed to proceed today from Beirut to Jezzine.
This morning, 10 tons of WFP’s high-energy biscuits and two tons of other essential supplies left the UN humanitarian depot in Brindisi, Italy, heading for Beirut. UNICEF, which had begun its campaign –- you may recall my telling you -– to immunize tens of thousands of displaced children, has reported that because of overnight bombing, its efforts have been greatly disrupted. Nevertheless, it’s continuing its campaign. We have more information on these items in the Spokesman’s Office on the third floor.
** Gaza and West Bank
News from Gaza: an IDF incursion around the Gaza International Airport is continuing and there is more information from our people in a press release upstairs. But just to summarize, UNRWA reports that they’re sheltering 1,815 people in Rafah and, are opening an additional shelter to deal with an influx of Palestinians fleeing the area.
There have been two IAF air strikes in Gaza City overnight, following earlier phone calls received by the residents warning that their homes are going to be targeted by the Israeli Air Force. Eight homemade rockets, on the other hand, were fired by Palestinians towards Israel in the last 24 hours.
On the West Bank, briefly, the external closure of the West Bank has continued for the fifth day, that is, since 31 July. Palestinians with West Bank ID cards and valid permits to enter Israel have not been allowed to enter Israel, including workers and traders. There are some limited exceptions to this for some critical medical cases and UN staff.
To round this up, OCHA, our Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ field offices have reported continued heightened tensions throughout the West Bank, including more protests about the situation in Lebanon.
Today, the fourth of August, a rocket that was fired from southern Lebanon landed in an open area, but a kilometre and a half from the Green Line, near Fakua village, and no casualties or damage were reported.
From 14 July to 4 August, the Israeli border police have prevented all West Bank ID card holders entering the Old City for Friday prayers. In addition, except for residents, no male Jerusalem ID card holders, between the ages of 16 and 45, were able to enter the Old City to pray.
Today, the restrictions extended to all male Jerusalem card holders under the age of 45, including children.
UNIFIL tells us Hizbollah fired rockets from various locations at a reduced level compared to the record of the previous day, but in large numbers, nevertheless.
The Israeli Defense Forces continued intensive shelling and aerial bombardment across the south.
A UNIFIL convoy from the Indian battalion came under small arms fire in the area of Markaba yesterday, causing damage to an armoured personnel carrier. It was not possible to establish the origin of the fire.
And, there are more details in today’s briefing note from UNIFIL.
I think I’ll pause there and take your questions if you have any.
**Question and Answers
Question: Anything on Qana?
Mr. Fawzi: No. If you recall, the Security Council, in its presidential statement last Sunday, requested that the Secretary-General report on the circumstances surrounding the incident in seven days’ time. So we expect the Secretary-General’s report on the facts. As you know, we haven’t conducted an investigation yet into the incident, but, he will be reporting on the facts as we know them from our own people on the ground who went to the scene, from NGOs, from the Lebanese side…we are putting these facts together and the Secretary-General will be reporting to the Council seven days after last Sunday, so, probably by Monday.
Question: I just wanted to ask you about the bombing of the Arida road northern of Beirut, which I believe is one of the three routes that Jan Egeland told us was one of the main humanitarian corridors. Is the UN looking into any alternative route form the North? I don’t know if there is any, but since that’s been bombed, what’s the next step?
Mr. Fawzi: Yes, we are looking into alternatives, but it ain’t easy. I know that our people are on the ground. WFP and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and others are looking at alternative supply routes, not just roads –- by air, by sea -– and when we do have…I mean this happened overnight, so it’s taking place as I speak. It’s a very difficult task, and, as soon as we have solutions they will become known.
Question: Just a follow-up: is the UN also talking with the IDF, because there are other reports of air and sea blockages saying that they will not allow aid through?
Mr. Fawzi: Yes, yes. We are talking to the IDF. Masood?
Question: As a consequence of this latest attack by Israel, do you know how many people have been rendered homeless or that are now refugees? Where are the refugees being taken? Where are they being housed? I think the figure was 900,000 yesterday. Has it gone up to 1 million? What’s the story?
Mr. Fawzi: According to Lebanese Government estimates, so far, 863 people have been killed and 3,280 people injured. The Lebanese Higher Relief Committee reports that the overall number of displaced now stands at 913,760, with the number of internally displaced persons remaining at almost 700,000. A majority of those displaced were from Beirut, Tyre, Sidon, the Shouf Mountains and the Aleya Region.
Question: Could you tell us what kind of contacts the Secretary-General has had perhaps in the past day or so in order to promote efforts of a resolution, or a ceasefire, or at least a cessation of hostilities?
Mr. Fawzi: Well, I can just reconfirm what Farhan “squawked” yesterday, and that is that he did have a conversation with [British Prime Minister] Tony Blair. But Farhan, do you know if he’s had any conversations with the French or the Americans over the past 24 hours?
Associate Spokesman: I’m not aware of any further conversation with the Americans or the French. The only other call that I’m aware of is yesterday evening when he spoke to the Brazilian Foreign Minister.
Mr. Fawzi: But, I can tell you that in a conversation about a half an hour ago with the Secretary-General, he did say that he was in touch with the leaders concerned -– without going into names -- and, he would remain in touch with them in order to monitor progress on a political settlement.
[The Associate Spokesman later announced that, over the course of the last 24 hours, the Secretary-General had had a call from Prime Minister Blair, and a call from the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Fouad Siniora. The Secretary-General himself had called the Acting Foreign Minister of Russia, Andrei Denisov, and French President Jacques Chirac. The Secretary-General had also just had contact with United States President George Bush.]
Question: When is he due back?
Associate Spokesman: Sometime on the weekend.
Question: Could you characterize your contact with the IDF? Are you protesting to the Israeli Government about the lack of access? Are you in a position to demand that they create corridors to bring in aid?
Mr. Fawzi: All of the above.
Question: Ok. Now, my second question about the numbers that you gave. You said there were 700,000 internally displaced and 900,000 refugees? Where are those refugees?
Mr. Fawzi: I said the overall count of displaced is now 913,760, and internally displaced, 700,000.
Question: So, there are about 200,000 who have left the country?
Mr. Fawzi: Yep. More, actually…
Question: Where have they gone?
Mr. Fawzi: Partly in Syria, partly in Cyprus -- neighbouring countries. Masood?
Question: You said that you were in contact. Have you received any answer from the Israeli authorities as to whether they will…?
Mr. Fawzi: Look. I honestly can’t give you a blow-by-blow account of our telephone conversations, and wireless conversations, and personal conversations with the IDF. I can only tell you they have been taking place and there has been an exchange. In other words, it’s not just one-sided. The IDF has responded to some of what we’re saying, but I can’t give you a blow-by-blow of the conversations.
Question: I’m not asking for a blow-by-blow: I’m just asking if you’ve had any positive response to your requests. That’s all.
Mr. Fawzi: We’ve had replies. Again, I don’t want to characterize them, please. Thank you.
Question: Any update on the oil spill?
Mr. Fawzi: No. I don’t have an update on the oil spill for you at this minute. But, I would encourage you to talk to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), because, as you know, it’s a rapidly changing scenario –- with the tides and everything, it is moving. So please do contact UNEP and I will also do the same.
Question: On the oil spill. Besides calling for a cessation of hostilities, does the United Nations have any plans for you might contain it?
Mr. Fawzi: Oh, absolutely. Yes. As I said yesterday, we have two monitoring stations that are working on this, plus the oceanographic centre that we have in the Mediterranean. Now, I say we are monitoring, but we are also rallying the international community to help. But, first of all, we can’t do anything as long as hostilities continue. That’s why we’re calling for a cessation of hostilities, but UNEP is on top of the planning for the eventual cessation of hostilities, and what can be done about the spill.
Question: Anything on the Security Council’s plan to stop the killing in Lebanon?
Mr. Fawzi: As you know, Security Council members are talking as we speak about a resolution –- perhaps two -– to map out a plan for the cessation of hostilities and what goes on after that. But, I really don’t want to comment on that at the moment. It’s not my place to talk about what Member States are doing. Matthew?
Question: You’d mentioned Israel making these telephone calls -– I think they’re automated –- in advance of bombing certain areas. So, I don’t know if Louise Arbour, or the Secretary-General, or anybody else in the UN system -– or you as the Secretariat –- has any comment about how this sits within the laws of war. Once those calls are made, under the laws of war, does that mean that bombs can be dropped on civilian areas?
Mr. Fawzi: The Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights have both made statements on the need to respect international humanitarian law, and I think that your question is a detail that I would have to look up -- whether or not, having warned civilians to leave an area, it is, therefore, permissible to go ahead and bomb that evacuated civilian area. I’m not an expert. I will have to check that for you.
[The Associate Spokesman later added that, on 31 July, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement in which she noted that Israel had warned the population of likely military action. She underlined “that, while effective advance warning of attacks, which may affect the civilian population must be given, this legal obligation does not absolve the parties to the conflict of their other obligations under international law regarding the protection of civilians”.]
Question: Could you give us an update on negotiations or an international force?
Mr. Fawzi: No. I’m afraid not. As I said earlier, it all depends on what Member States want and what the Security Council decides, and we’re waiting impatiently -– with great anticipation –- for the Security Council to make up its mind.
Question: In that conversation with the Secretary-General that you referred to earlier, what would say was his mood or opinion about the pace of the Council’s negotiations?
Mr. Fawzi: Concerned. Deeply, deeply concerned that it is taking so long. Okay.
Question: Can you give us a status report on the Secretary-General’s team [Special Political Advisor Vijay Nambiar, United Nations envoy to Middle East Alvaro de Soto and Special Envoy Terje Roed-Larsen], their whereabouts or where they might be going?
Mr. Fawzi: Well, I saw Nambiar a short while ago. He’s in the building in New York working very hard with the Secretary-General on this and other issues. I’m not sure where Mr. Larsen is, do you know, Farhan?
Associate Spokesman: I think he’s here. Certainly Mr. de Soto is in Jerusalem and Gaza.
Question: Do they have any plans to go to Syria or Iran or anywhere?
Mr. Fawzi: No. Not immediately. But, I think we should wait and see what developments come out of the Security Council before deciding what role they will have in the region. I mean, they have a very important role -– as you know, Mr. de Soto is talking to both the Israelis and the Palestinians, and Mr. [Geir] Pedersen, Personal Representative of the Secretary-General in Lebanon, in fact had a meeting with the Lebanese Prime Minister today to discuss the situation in Lebanon and what’s going to happen in the next few days. So, the Secretary-General and all of his Senior Advisors are engaged with what’s going on at the moment. I’ll just leave it at that.
Question: Anything on [Serge] Brammertz?
Mr. Fawzi: On Mr. Brammertz, head of the UN International Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC). A small group of his staff have been evacuated to Cyprus, but, they continue to work on the investigation. Some of the staff are still in Beirut, and I know that he is monitoring the situation very carefully and wants to go back to Beirut, as soon as possible in order to be near his staff. So, that’s where it stands at the moment.
Question: When is his next report?
Mr. Fawzi: When is the next report, do you know, Farhan? He just reported recently…
Associate Spokesman: I think he just reported recently
Mr. Fawzi: I don’t know the precise date. I’ll get back to you later.
Associate Spokesman: I’ll check up on the precise date, I think it might be something like December, but I’ll check.
[The Associate Spokesman later announced that the next report from the Commission investigating the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is due in mid-September.]
Mr. Fawzi: Thank you all. And, as soon as we have the statement from the Secretary-General we’ll release it from the Spokesman’s office as usual.
Question: The attack on the UNIFIL office that led to the four deaths, when is the UN’s report due on that?
Mr. Fawzi: I don’t think that there’s a due date, but the Board of Inquiry is almost ready to go. We’re sending a Headquarters board of inquiry. It’s going to be a small team of competent specialists -– both military and legal, three or four people –- and it will be leaving for the region, as soon as possible. Thank you very much.
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