Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

1 August 2014

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

1 August 2014
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

I’ll start off with a couple of statements, one about Gaza and one on the annulment of the anti-homosexuality act in Uganda.  I’ll start off with that and we’ll go through the briefing and then Jeffrey Feltman, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, will join me in progress to talk to you about Gaza and the latest developments there.

** Gaza

The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms the reported violation by Hamas of the mutually agreed humanitarian ceasefire which commenced this morning.  He is shocked and profoundly disappointed by these developments.  The Secretary-General notes that the United Nations has no independent means to verify exactly what happened.  According to the latest reports, two IDF [Israeli Defence Forces] soldiers were killed and one taken captive after the humanitarian ceasefire came into effect.  This would constitute a grave violation of the ceasefire, and one that is likely to have very serious consequences for the people of Gaza, Israel and beyond.  Such moves call into question the credibility of Hamas' assurances to the United Nations.  The Secretary-General demands the immediate and unconditional release of the captured soldier.

The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the resumption of Israeli attacks on Gaza and the killing of over 70 Palestinians this morning.  Instead of giving both sides, especially Gazan civilians, a much needed reprieve to let them attend to their injured, bury their dead and repair vital infrastructure, this breach of the ceasefire is now leading to a renewed escalation.  The Secretary-General urges both sides to show maximum restraint and return to the agreed 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire that tragically lasted such a brief period of time.  He also urges those with influence over the parties to do everything to convince them to observe the humanitarian ceasefire.  That has been emailed to you and is now online.

** Uganda

The Secretary-General welcomes the decision by the Constitutional Court of Uganda to annul the country’s anti-homosexuality act as a victory for the rule of law.  He pays tribute to all those who contributed to this step forward, particularly the human rights defenders in Uganda who spoke out, at times incurring great personal risk.  The Secretary-General calls for further efforts to decriminalize same-sex relationships and address the stigma and discrimination that persist in Uganda against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.

The Secretary-General reiterates that everyone is entitled to enjoy the same basic rights and live a life of worth and dignity without discrimination, as affirmed in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Ugandan Constitution and the recent resolution of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, on protection against violence and other human rights violations against persons on the basis of their real or imputed sexual orientation or gender identity.  And we also have a statement on the same issue by Michel Sidibé, the Executive Director of UNAIDS [Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS].

**United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees

Going back to Gaza, aid agencies in Gaza have today appealed for $369 million to meet urgent humanitarian needs in Gaza.  The appeal focuses on supporting access to health and water, as well as addressing the needs of the estimated 440,000 people who have been displaced in the fighting.  The situation for the civilians of Gaza and the UN Relief and Works Agency [for Palestine Refugees in the Near East]’s (UNRWA) ability to deal with what has become a human displacement crisis of huge proportions is reaching breaking point.  The reported end of the ceasefire is going to add to an already intolerable burden.

UNRWA says that there are 86 UNRWA emergency shelters, housing more than 225,000 displaced people, an increase of 10 per cent in 24 hours.  There as many as 3,500 people in some, placing intolerable burdens on UNRWA and its ability to deliver adequate services.  And just to give you a couple of brief updates, both from South Sudan and the Central Africa Republics, which are issues we have not heard about too much these recent days.

**South Sudan

On South Sudan, our humanitarian colleagues says that the situation in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states remains tense and it is reported that people are continuing to flee to neighbouring countries.  The total number of refugees has reached 434,000 while 1.1 million people have been displaced from their homes within the country.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs also says that the rainy season has increased the risk of diseases across the country.  In displacement sites, the most commonly reported illnesses include pneumonia, malaria and other acute respiratory infections.  About 95,300 people are now sheltering within nine UN Protection of Civilians sites.

Of these, the majority are in four locations:  Bentiu, Bor, Juba and Malakal. Most people are living in self-made shelters, but some are still in open areas.  Most people rely on food distributions to survive.  The conditions at the Bentiu Protection site are particularly dire, and worsening due to rain.  About 40,600 people are sheltering there, and 20 more families are arriving each day.  And we have more from our colleagues at [the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs].

** Central African Republic

On the Central African Republic, our humanitarian colleagues tells us that despite recent peace talks in Brazzaville, clashes between armed groups have continued, exacting a heavy toll on civilians.  Earlier this week (on 30 July), 26 civilians were killed when clashes between armed groups resulted in an attack on the village of Batangafo in Ouham Prefecture.  The continued insecurity is having a direct impact on aid efforts, with 16 aid workers have been killed in the Central African Republic since fighting reached its peak in December.  An estimated 527,000 people are still internally displaced in the Central African Republic, including 102,000 internally displaced persons in Bangui.  Over half the population — 2.5 million people — need humanitarian assistance.  In addition to the perilous security situation, the efforts of aid groups are also being hindered by a lack of funding.  Less than 40 per cent of the $565 million needed for 2014 has been received so far.

** Afghanistan — Elections

From Afghanistan, our colleagues at the UN [Assistance] Mission in [ Afghanistan] (UNAMA) welcomed the deployment of international observers and UN experts ahead of the resumption of the comprehensive audit of the results of the presidential run-off tomorrow.  More than 200 full-time international observers are expected to play a key role in providing complete international scrutiny of the audit, while dozens of experts from the UN Development Programme (UNDP) will be based in the audit warehouses where they will provide advice on international best practices.  More information is available on the mission’s website.

** Afghanistan — Child Soldiers

Also on Afghanistan, the Mission welcomed the Government of Afghanistan’s commitment to end and prevent the recruitment of children in the national security forces.  That is done in collaboration by UNAMA and UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] and we have more information on their websites.

** Iraq

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) has released new casualty figures for July.  The mission reports that at least 1,700 Iraqis, including nearly 1,200 civilians, have been killed during acts of violence and terrorism in July.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, is concerned about the rising number of civilian casualties, including children and women, who remain the most vulnerable.  He, once again, called on all sides to the conflict to ensure the protection of civilians and respect for international humanitarian law.  We have more available in my office.


The Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Margaret Chan, met today in Guinea with presidents of West African nations impacted by the Ebola outbreak, to launch a new joint $100 million response plan.  Dr. Chan said the scale of the Ebola outbreak, and the persistent threat it poses, requires the World Health Organization and Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to take the response to a new level.  This will require increased resources, in-country medical expertise, regional preparedness and coordination.  Of greatest need are clinical doctors and nurses, social mobilization experts, logisticians and data managers.  The Ebola Virus Disease Outbreak Response Plan in West Africa also outlines the need to increase preparedness systems in neighbouring nations and strengthen global capacities.  The scale of the ongoing outbreak is unprecedented, with approximately 1,323 confirmed and suspected cases reported, and 729 deaths since March 2014.

**Press Conferences

For Monday, a couple of press conferences:  one, the usual start-of-the-month press conference by the President of the Security Council for August, Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant of the United Kingdom, and he’ll be here to discuss the Council’s programme of work for the month.

And at 4 p.m, there will be a press conference sponsored by the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom, this one on the Globe Theatre organizing a performance of Shakespeare here at the UN later in August.  It’s always good to have a little theatre.

Mr. Feltman will be here very shortly to talk about Gaza, so let me start off with non-Gaza questions first, if there are any.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers:

Question:  There seems to be a number of people who need aid from the UN system that is increasing every given week and the number seems to be on the rise.  How’s the UN system holding onto to this rise of need of aid throughout different parts of the region?  Seems to be the stress on the general UN system must be pretty strong at this point.

Spokesman:  I think there is a… we’ve seen an increase and I think the Deputy-Secretary-General was very eloquent on that fact, on the increase of suffering we are seeing in people.  One of the big challenges that I have outlined is the lack of funding for a lot of these appeals, some of the “forgotten appeals”, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Somalia…  A lot of our humanitarian appeals are chronically underfunded and I think, as we’ve reported from here, this leads to real consequences with sometimes a cut in rationing, diminution of rationing and limit of services that UN humanitarian agencies are able to deliver.  Matthew?

Question:  Libya and DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea].  In Libya, it seems like a lot countries, obviously the US [ United States] did it, but now other countries are pulling their embassies and diplomats out.  So, I wondered when… I know when Tarek Mitri left, he said he was going to still try to be in touch and try to start a political process.  What steps has he taken since he left the country?  And also, obviously you may have seen this DPRK press conference.  They’re asking for an emergency Security Council meeting about US-South Korea military action and they wrote a letter, I believe, to the Secretary-General about an American film, maybe you are aware of that letter?  Was that letter received?  Called The Interview and I want to know:  was it received?  And what does the Secretary-General think about it?

Spokesman:  I do believe it’s received.  I don’t know of any particular response.  I will check into that.  Libya, obviously the situation is of great concern to us, the increased violence, but I will try to get a more specific update for you on Tarek Mitri.  Yes?

Question:  Going back to Ebola, there are increasing reports of medical teams being turned away from villages, sometimes forcefully, Guinea, Liberia, Sierre Leone; does the Secretary-General have a message to the populations of these countries that are increasingly fearful, not only about the virus itself, but about medical intervention?

Spokesman:  I think, you know, obviously the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan, are very much in the lead on this and a big issue, as you pointed out, is the issue of communications, communications to the affected population.  So, we do hope that the Governments concerned and the communities concerned will work closely with the World Health Organization.  As I’ve just said, one of the needs that they have are social mobilization experts, people who can communicate with the impacted communities to ensure that the messages get through and the proper precautions are taken.  Nizar?

Question:  Hamas did not declare that they have arrested any Israeli soldier or officer.  How did the United Nations know about that?  Also what is the opinion of the Secretary-General with regard to attacking ambulances of the Rafah area?  Many of the workers there have been injured or killed today as a result of that.

Spokesman:  As I said, Mr. Feltman will be here shortly, and I think I hear a knock at the door, so we’ll let him in.  Obviously, on the issue of the need to respect the sanctity of health clinics and ambulances, this is something we’ve repeatedly said and is in accordance with international humanitarian law.  Any other non-Gaza related questions?  Yes?

Question:  My question about the statement, actually I can’t understand two paragraphs of this statement.  The first one you said that Hamas violated the ceasefire and the second paragraph said UN has no independent means to verify exactly what happened.  How you can find Hamas violated ceasefire because Hamas said the Israeli attacked on the east of Rafah?

Spokesman:  Obviously, what we are stating is the information we have been able to gather from both public and private sources.  Carla?  And then we will go to Mr. Feltman.

Question:  [inaudible] favourite Shakespeare?

Spokesman:  I would wait patiently until 4 p.m. on Monday when Mr. Lyall Grant will be here to talk to you.  And, I’m sure you can ask him any question about the Globe Theatre and Shakespeare you wish to ask.

Question:  Can you please give us an update about the situation of UN Mission in Libya?  Their safety and security, any measures you have taken.

Spokesman:  No further update than what Farhan announced a couple of days ago, but as I told Matthew, I will try to get you fresher information.  Yes?

Question:  I’m asking about the Egypt ask two sides to send delegations for negotiations.   wanted to know…

Spokesman:  I’m going to stop you.  I’m going to get Mr. eltman and he’ll be able to answer you with much more authority than I am.  Stand by two seconds.  Good afternoon, again.  As I promised, we are joined by Jeff Feltman, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs who is here to talk to you a bit more about Gaza and the Middle East.  Jeff, they read the statement, but I don’t know if you want to add a couple of words or we go straight to questions?

Mr. Feltman:  Let’s go straight to questions.

Spokesman:  Great.

Question:  Mr. Feltman, on behalf of UN Correspondents Association, thank you for coming here and giving us this briefing.  Can you tell us how did you reach this agreement on ceasefire in Gaza?  Was Hamas part of the agreement?  How did you contact Hamas?  How do you describe the situation now in Gaza?  Thank you.

Mr. Feltman:  Fairly comprehensive set of questions.  They are covering everything.  There was a very complicated and strong diplomatic effort to arrive at the statement that was made last night by the Secretary-General and US Secretary of State [John] Kerry.  That included a lot of regional and international actors, as well as, of course, contacts with the parties.  The Egyptians, the Qataris, the Turks played an important role, as well.  But, what was important was that we received assurances.  We received assurances from the parties that they would observe a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire that was supposed to begin at eight o’clock this morning, local time.  We didn’t offer the assurances.  We were basing the announcement on the assurances that we had received directly and via the other parties that were involved in trying to get to this point.  Our goal, of course, was very clear:  we need to end the killing.  We needed to push to get those types of assurances and as the Secretary-General’s statement says, he is profoundly, profoundly disappointed that the ceasefire seems to have lasted for maybe 90 minutes this morning.  It’s a tragic loss of opportunity for both sides to end the cycle of fear and suffering.  We need to get, to find a way to get back to that.  I think that Stéphane has talked probably already about the situation now, but you’ve asked me.  We see, instead of calm today, instead of seeing Palestinian families out able to tend to their daily needs, burying their dead, caring for the wounded, instead we see escalation.  And it’s… the Secretary-General is quite, quite upset about this, and we’re looking to see how the same partners can work together to try to get back to where we hoped to be last night, when the statement was released.  This is not going to easy.  I think all of us have seen situations where, in the past, where there have been captures of Israeli soldiers and that has… anyone could have predicted that that was going to lead to escalation so now we have to figure out how to get away from the escalation back to the ceasefire.  Of course, the Secretary-General, in his statement, did call for the immediate and unconditional release of the soldier that was reported missing and reported captured.

Spokesman:  Ali, if you guys could, as we are going to have a lot of questions, stick to one question, so we have time to get everybody.

Question:  Thank you Stéphane.  Thank you, Mr. Feltman.  In fact, Hamas, the reality is that Hamas is a major and other party in this conflict.  Do you think that you should talk to Hamas directly or maybe talk… Let’s say you’ve been promoting Iran in the region, in the conflict in Syria and Lebanon, to talk to Iran, do you believe that you should talk directly to Hamas, or you should talk to Iran?  And I have another question on Syria.  What kind of relationship you are maintaining with the figures in the regime, especially Mrs. Buthaina Shaaban?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Let’s try to stick to Gaza and the one question.  Thanks, Ali.

Mr. Feltman:  I think Robert Serry has said before, and I will paraphrase what he said.  We could not do our job as the United Nations if we didn’t have a way to talk to all parties.  We need to be able to have channels of communication where all the parties, that includes Hamas, know our views, where we are able to hear from all parties.  I’m not going to go into tactically in how we do this, but I want to assure you, Ali, that we, Hamas knows how to get information to us, to reach us, to debate things with us.  We know how to reach Hamas.  But, the assurances that were there last night from the parties were assurances that not only we received but also were conveyed to others.  We went on record saying we received all the assurances, but we had shared assumptions by those that were involved that there were assurances from all the parties, including Hamas about honouring the ceasefire that began, that was supposed to begin today at 8 a.m. and that was supposed to have lasted for 72 hours.

Question:  [inaudible] Iran [inaudible] peace… They were all in this?

Mr. Feltman:  The Secretary-General spoke recently with the Foreign Minister of Iran.  The Secretary-General continues to talk to regional leaders.  We think that there a lot of actors, regionally and internationally, who can do their part in encouraging the parties to get back to the ceasefire.  This is about saving lives.  What we are trying to do is to stop the suffering, to stop the fear on both sides to save lives.

Spokesman:  Jonathan and then Raghida.

Question:  Mr. Feltman, for quite a while now, some journalists, including myself and others, have been trying to get to the real bottom of how many Hamas or Islamic jihad fighters have been killed in the conflict and those numbers have not been forthcoming.  Could you address that question?  And also, in this room, some journalists have mentioned the word “genocide”, in accusing Israel of committing genocide against the Palestinian people in Gaza.  There have been diplomats around the world, like Erdogan in Turkey, the Palestinian ambassador accused Israel of committing genocide.  Can you please address the big word “genocide” and whether, in fact, Israel is committing genocide?

Mr. Feltman:  I don’t know… I don’t have the latest on the casualty figures for Gaza.  Something like 1,400 people killed, probably more than that at this point…

Spokesman:  We received figures from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs which are 1,435.  This is today.

Mr. Feltman:  And we believe that something like 80 per cent of those are civilians, with a high proportion of that being children.  I know that there are others who may dispute those figures.  We’re relying on what OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] provides to us and we try, we do the best we can in trying to do this.  But, we see the overwhelming number of those killed are civilians and that, of course, fills the Secretary-General with great concern.

Question:  Understandable that many civilians have been killed and it’s horrific, obviously.  But, one thing that has been glaringly unclear is how many combatants have been killed on the Palestinian side?  You’re getting your figures from OCHA, but where is OCHA getting its figures?

Spokesman:  They work in contact with the Palestinian Health authorities on the ground.  Those are the numbers that OCHA has.  Those are the UN numbers.  There are no other numbers that we have.  So, I think that’s where we are on that.  Raghida?

Question:  A couple of clarifications first, before the question.  Did you mean to say that you are in touch with Iran as part of the reach-out to Hamas?  And how did you establish that Hamas had broken the ceasefire?  And the lead question I have is:  does the Secretary-General agree with the position of Mr. Kerry, President Obama that the big resolution of Gaza requires the demilitarization of Gaza?

Mr. Feltman:  The Secretary-General has spoken to a lot of regional leaders, Raghida, but I will say that the active diplomacy of the last 48 hours that led to us receiving the assurances was much more focused on working with the parties themselves, as well as with the Americans, Egyptians, Qataris and Turks.  Others, I think, played a role, as well.  But, the concentration was on the countries I just mentioned.  With the Secretary-General in touch with the Americans, the Egyptians, the Turks, the Qataris on an ongoing basis to try to achieve what we had hoped would have been the 72 hour humanitarian ceasefire.  And I forget the…

Spokesman:  Demilitarization…

Question:  How did you establish that Hamas is actually the one who broke the ceasefire this time and does the Secretary-General agree with the call for demilitarizing Gaza as part of the larger solution?

Mr. Feltman:  I’m going to take that second question first, Raghida.  We want to get to the point where we are solving the core issues that concern both parties.  We want to get there as quickly as we can.  But, what we want to do now is stop the killing, stop the violence, end the cycle of fear and suffering that is affecting both sides, so that we can talk about those issues.  The Secretary-General wants the UN to play its role for the long-term stability, economic recovery, reconstruction in Gaza.  He wants to help the parties address their mutual concerns, but he’s not at a position at this point to say how we’re going to get there because we’re concentrating now on trying to stop the violence to create the political space.  The invitation that the Egyptians gave for the parties to come to Cairo, which would have provided an opportunity to start talking about the bigger issues, was based on the assumption that there would be quiet… that the quiet would create some political space for discussions about how to address the larger issues.  But, we’re not going to, here today, talk about what the UN position would be on certain issues, but there has to be a way if we’re going to avoid having a flare-up of this awful situation between Gaza and Israel every couple of years that we can address core issues.  That includes the security for Israel.  That includes Israel not having to fear tunnels and attacks; that includes the trade and access of movement for the Palestinian citizens of Gaza.  There are a lot of issues that have to be addressed.  There are security needs on both sides that will have to be addressed, if we’re going to prevent recurrence of this every few years is what we want to avoid.  But, now, the concentration is getting back to a ceasefire, to create the political space so that those issues can be discussed.

Question:  Okay, in the statement you mentioned credibility of Hamas, that it puts into question credibility of Hamas, the question is that there are reports that when the kidnapping event happened at 9:30 a.m., that by that time, Hamas in Gaza hasn’t sent anyone to Cairo, indicating that it might have been planned all along to use the ceasefire as a cover to do the kidnapping.  Are you concerned that the UN might have been duped, as well as the US?  And a second question, since you haven’t answered Jonathan’s question about the genocide, besides genocide, there’s a lot of comparisons to Hitler and [the Second World War] and Nazis, and so on and so forth.  Are you concerned that it’s going to, as it has already, be harmful to Jews around the world who are unconnected to Israel and sometimes even not supporting Israel?

Mr. Feltman:  We received assurances from the parties, as we’ve stated in the Secretary-General’s statement with Secretary of State John Kerry last night.  Those assurances came after long, hard, tough negotiations that included the active participation of many parties.  We felt it was an obligation to use those assurances to try to put in place that 72-hour ceasefire that could then provide the political space to talk about the larger issues, some of which have come up today.  I don’t think we had a choice but to try to get those assurances and then try to use those assurances in order to stop the killing.  I think it was an obligation on our part and we’re profoundly disappointed that those assurances did not lead to a sustained 72-hour ceasefire and that instead, we’re seeing an escalation right now.  In any conflict situation like this, one sees polarization.  One sees damage done to forces of moderation on each side of a conflict.  I think that’s what we’re seeing right now.  The examples that you gave of incitement are ugly, in many cases reprehensible, but we see this in conflict situations.  We see and we’ve seen this, we’ve seen both sides dehumanizing the other side in this particular conflict and I think one of the tragedies, beyond the immediate human tragedy that so many families are suffering, is the damage being done to moderate forces on both sides.  I’m not going to speculate on what this means for the safety of Jews worldwide, but I am concerned about the growing polarization in the immediate, by the parties, in the parties, and the need to somehow find ways to strengthen the voices of moderation, both among the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Question:  Matthew Lee, Inner City Press on behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access, thanks for this briefing.  I hope we can have more of them with you, Mr. Feltman.  I wanted to ask you, Haaretz is reporting that Robert Serry “spoke with Hamas leadership in Gaza while the Qataris spoke with the head of Khaled Meshaal’s staff in Doha”.  This is in today’s paper.  So, I wanted to know, is it true?  Did Robert Serry speak directly with Hamas leadership in Gaza?  And I also, since you are an official of the US Government where there’s all kinds of rules about kind of disclosure and gifts, I did want to ask you about this question about the Secretary-General taking this emergency, private jet, Qatari-funded flight to head into the region.  The question arose in Jerusalem, it arose here at the stakeout.  Do you think that the UN, as a pinnacle body should have at a minimum, rules to disclose when gifts are given by countries that have a stake in a particular issue that’s being mediated?

Spokesperson:  You answer the first part, I’ll deal with… I think we’ve answered the issue of the plane.  On this particular trip, we used a plane given to use by Qatar, one by Saudi Arabia and one that we chartered ourselves.  These are not gifts.  They’re in-kind contributions from Member States.  The Ethics Office is aware and the Secretary-General is fully capable of distancing himself from in-kind services and the political situation that he’s in.  The bottom line is that the UN does not have the operational facilities that a lot of Foreign Ministers have to do these trips, often on very short notice, and we’ve accepted in-kind contributions from a number of countries.

Question:  Do you think it should just be disclosed?

Spokesman:  I think, Benny, Matthew, this is why I’m going on vacation.  So, there’s really nothing more for me to say on the plane.  Let’s move on.

Mr. Feltman:  Matthew, I was not with Robert Serry.  Robert Serry and I have been talking constantly.  We’re in constant touch, but I’m not going to comment on the working methods, except to say what I said earlier, which is that we have ways of reaching out to all the parties.  We have ways of communicating directly and indirectly and of getting others, working with others to make sure that there are similar message that are being sent from those that have influence on the parties.  This is basic diplomacy, as practised by UN Envoys all over the world, as you find ways to have others be force-multipliers to get your message across and you deal with people through whatever means you can.  So, I’m not going to comment beyond that.

Question:  Mr. Feltman, I wondered whether you could identify the key factors that lead to the ceasefire agreement yesterday.  What changed over the course of the week?  What changed since John Kerry and Ban Ki-moon left the region?  And are those factors sort of now irretrievable?

Mr. Feltman:  The parties had shown the ability to put in place unconditional humanitarian pauses a few days earlier.  They weren’t 72 hours.  They didn’t provide the space that we had hoped the ceasefire would do, but the parties have shown an ability to provide time and space for burying dead, for humanitarian re-supply, for some basic repairs sometimes to infrastructure.  So, the Secretary of State and the Secretary-General were building on what was already an existing capacity to put in place humanitarian ceasefires.  And, as we said in the statement yesterday, this was an unconditional, this was an immediate, unconditional ceasefire that was agreed to.  Meaning, neither side was giving up its demands, but it was a recognition, we had hoped, that both sides needed to give reprieve to the civilian populations.  So, that the Israelis would be able to not live in fear of the tunnels and the rockets and the Palestinians, who have suffered so much, grievously suffered, would be able to tend to their daily needs.  So, they were building on a precedent and building on the fact that neither side had to really give up some of its political demands, that they were linking to a long-term, durable ceasefire.  And I think that there was recognition in the region and beyond of the need for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to have a lengthy enough reprieve by which they could start doing repairs of infrastructure, some of the things that I’ve already said.  So, there was unity of purpose among some players who have quite divergent views about what the long-term solutions are, but who could agree that in the short-term, there needed to be a humanitarian ceasefire to end the violence, to end the fear, to end the suffering for sufficient time that we hoped we could get a political process going more broadly.  I hope that we can get back to that.  But, it’s going to be extremely difficult in the situation that we see in the Gaza Strip now, particularly with the capture of the Israeli soldier.

Question:  Mr. Feltman, regarding the abduction today, or the so-called abduction because Hamas has not declared that they have abducted anyone yet.  From what we hear from Gaza and from the West Bank, there is blame on United Nations that they are not impartial, that they have taken sides in the past and now.  At the outset, when the three Israeli were abducted, Hamas was blamed straight forward.  And then the investigations turned out that it was not Hamas who abducted them, but an independent group.  And then today, the United Nations is viewed as taking sides by accusing Hamas, where Hamas did not declare that they have arrested this officer.  Also, how can you, you said in the statement it was obvious that you said that you don’t know the details about how this abduction happened or how the two Israeli soldiers were killed.  Can you explain to the viewers in the Middle East, how can you explain these partial, sided messages coming from United Nations?

Mr. Feltman:  Both sides in this conflict have, at times, and in the strongest terms, expressed their concern with statements that the Secretary-General or others have said.  Both sides.  So, both sides have accused the United Nations of bias at various points in this conflict.  The Secretary-General’s overwhelming focus has been on:  how in the short-term do we end the violence?  And the statements have been guided by the principles of this organization, by the best information that’s available to us at the time and you are absolutely right, and we state when we do not have any independent means of verifying things.  But, in this case, we don’t really have a whole lot of questions about whether or not there was an Israeli soldier who was captured or not.  It seems fairly clear from all the reporting, but you’re right, we have not been there on the ground to see it in person.  But, it seems fairly clear that the Secretary-General felt strongly enough to come out with the statement, based on what appeared to be sufficient number of reports that suggest credibility.  I don’t think that the Secretary-General or the United Nations has anything to be ashamed of in terms of its response on the ground.  When you look at 240,000 Palestinians taking shelter in 80-some schools in the Gaza Strip where you have WFP, WHO, UNICEF and of course UNRWA primarily, working to address the humanitarian needs in the Gaza Strip.  There’s been a great mobilization of effort by this Organization in recognition of the suffering that civilians in the Gaza Strip are taking and I hope that what you viewers are focused on is the incredible work that UN staff, across the board has done trying to alleviate the suffering.  And I’m proud when I hear the stories of how UN staff has been operating in Gaza, in very dangerous situations.  I think you’re aware that eight staff members have been killed in this Organization.  But, there’s a very clear focus by this Organization to try to alleviate the suffering, and as the diplomatic efforts show, to try to stop the killing.

Correspondent:  Just to follow-up on that, it’s equally important to show impartiality in the statements because accusations could really be translated into blood in this case.

Mr. Feltman:  As I’ve said, both sides have at times expressed very strong reservations about what they don’t like in our statements.

Question:  Yesterday, Navi Pillay, United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, said, and I quote her that, “ Israel was deliberating defying international law and it its military offensive in Gaza and that the world should hold it accountable for possible war crimes”.  And similar sentiments also [inaudible] after the attack on Gaza school [inaudible].  Do you think that what Navi Pillay is saying is basically an opinion of the international community now?  That the killing of so many children and women and children…

Mr. Feltman:  I’ll let Navi Pillay discuss her own statement, but what I can say is that, as the Secretary-General himself has said, as well, it is alarming to see the civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip.  Which is why all this diplomacy over the past 72 hours was focused on trying to get to a humanitarian pause — to stop the killing.  And, as the Secretary-General has said in the case of the strikes against the UN schools, for example, there needs to be a serious investigation, a serious examination and it needs to be a thorough look at what kind of accountability can be put in place.

Correspondent:  He called that thing reprehensible, the attack on children, himself.

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General said what he said and he also spoke about accountability.  We’re just going to go around because we’re running very short on time.

Question:  [inaudible] Iranian TV, my question about, you know, yesterday, the Pentagon allowed Israel to use the US stockpile inside Israel.  Do you think, as a UN member, this act helped the ceasefire or will help end this war?

Mr. Feltman:  We want to just see the violence stop.  We want to see the killing stop, the violence stop, we want to do whatever we can so that neither sides is using weapons.  So, that the casualties stop.  I don’t have any specific thing on the US-Israel deal, except that our goal is to see the violence stop.

Question:  Thank you.  You were a key player in the “telephone diplomacy”.  How clear did both sides understand where the lines that Hamas and Israel could go?  And was Hamas clearly aware, you mentioned assurances, were they aware that Israel could do, and they could do, defensive operations, such as tunnel destruction?

Mr. Feltman:  I am convinced that the answer to that question, Richard, is yes.  Perhaps some will deny that now but yes, it was very clear in the diplomacy being done yesterday, and the statement from last night, of course, hinted at this in talking about lines being left in place as of 8 a.m.  It was very clear that the Israelis were going to continue to try to do destruction of tunnels.  And the Israelis have been clear about that publically.  The Israelis never ceased saying that, so I don’t think that it should have been any surprise.  Rightly or wrongly, it should not have been any surprise to anyone that the Israelis were going to continue the tunnel operation, given their own public statements.

Question:  Mr. Feltman, what’s your understanding of the talks that were supposed to happen in Cairo?  Are they still going to happen?  There were some reports that the Palestinian delegation couldn’t leave Rafa.  There were, I think the Americans were still sending somebody.  Is Mr. Serry going or yourself?  Or are they not even happening?  What do you know?

Mr. Feltman:  I’m not sure what the Egyptians are thinking right now.  The invitation came from the Government of Egypt.  It was the Egyptians were hosting the talks.  The parties had responded to invitations from Egypt, but these talks were going to be hard.  I think everyone can recognize how difficult these issues are that many of you have raised today.  These talks were going to be hard.  The chance for success of these talks rested on quiet, rested on the 72-hour ceasefire.  So, right now, we have an escalation instead of ceasefire.  I, myself, have a hard time envisioning how these talks would work right now because there was a substantive and logical linkage between the 72-hour unconditional humanitarian ceasefire and the attempt to make it more durable by addressing some core issues.  And right now, that essential first part isn’t there.

Question:  Mr. Feltman, how does actually the UN respond to the criticisms voice by Israelis saying that UNRWA is not neutral or not impartial?  Thank you.

Mr. Feltman:  UNRWA is doing a heroic job in caring for Palestinians who are in a terrible situation right now.  UNRWA is seeing every day how strained it is as an organization.  You know, this is not a normal situation to have 80-some people in classrooms, to have 2,000 people in a school without proper sanitation facilities, to have difficulty in getting food, water, to see things like lice and scabies start spreading through the population that they’re trying to shelter.  I do not accept that UNRWA itself is going beyond its mandate.  Its mandate is there to try to provide protection for the Palestinian refugee population and now, this incredible situation of those that are displaced.  There’s a human element to anyone who’s working in these things.  You’re going to react to what you’re seeing at a human level, but the Organization is working to the best of its ability to continue to provide the services that are in its mandate.

Spokesman:  Great, thanks.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.