Secretary-General's press encounter during visit to the UN Interim Force in Lebanon [UNIFIL]
Naquoura, Lebanon, 17 January 2009SG: Ladies and gentlemen of the media, it is a great pleasure to have this opportunity of sharing some thoughts with you and answering your questions.
This is my second visit to UNIFIL, the first being in March of 2007. I have just visited some of the troops and I continue to be impressed with the dedication and commitment of all UNIFIL peacekeepers, men and women, serving in UNIFIL they have my full admiration and respect. I would like to take this opportunity again to commend the exemplary leadership of Force Commander Major-General Graziano.
UNIFIL has helped to achieve a number of key objectives in Security Council resolution 1701 which was adopted in 2006. The daily activities of the mission in close cooperation with the Lebanese Armed Forces over the past two years have helped to build confidence. I would like to again thank the hard work and commitment of the Lebanese Armed Forces for their hard work and commitment, working together to preserve peace and stability with UNIFIL.
A new strategic environment has been created in UNIFIL's area of operations. UNIFIL has to be, and is, prepared for any eventuality. In recent days they have had to deal with the aftermath of rockets being fired into northern Israel. I am proud of our blue helmets and will never miss an opportunity to salute them and tell them so.
Thank you very much and I will be happy to answer your questions.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, we had heard some information about an agreement on cease fire in Gaza between Gaza and Israel tonight. Is this true or not?
SG: I am still consulting with the parties concerned including the Israeli government, and I am not yet aware of any concrete development of the situation. What I understand is that the Israeli government may have a Cabinet meeting tonight to discuss and make a decision on their own positions. I have discussed again with the Egyptian government who have been taking initiative and consulting with the parties concerned on the basis of their proposals. I understand that they have not been able to help to reach an agreed cease fire at this time, regrettably, and I am awaiting the decision of the Israeli government. That's what I can tell you at this time.
But I would like to urge at this time, again and again, that this fighting must stop. We have no time to lose. The longer it takes, the more people will be killed and injured, the more destruction will follow. Therefore I again urge that they stop fighting and they avoid all these human casualties and humanitarian assistance must continue without any hindrance.
Q: Secretary-General, if there is a ceasefire it looks as if there will be an event in Sharm el Sheikh to underpin the ceasefire and talk about the reconstruction of Gaza. Have you been invited to Sharm el Sheikh and do you intend to go?
SG: The most desirable situation would have been that when there is an agreed ceasefire. I was considering to dispatch immediately after the ceasefire a humanitarian needs assessment team led by the United Nations to Gaza. Now, still in the absence of this ceasefire, I understand that the Egyptian government is going to host a summit level meeting to discuss this humanitarian assistance and reconstruction and I am considering participating in that meeting to be hosted by President Mubarak of Egypt.
Q: [In Arabic] We welcome you Secretary-General and I would like to ask you a question that explains the situation of the southerners in particular and the Lebanese in general. When will we witness a permanent ceasefire and an end to the daily Israeli violations based on resolution 1701?
SG: Security Council resolution 1701 is the important Security Council decision, a decision of the United Nations, to preserve and maintain peace and security in this part of the world, in this part of the region. The United Nations in close coordination with the Lebanese Armed Forces, UNIFIL and also IDF, have been working hard to implement this Security Council resolution 1701. I have commended the role of UNIFIL and LAF in achieving elements of this [resolution] 1701 they have achieved a lot but there remains still much more to be done.
This is what I have discussed before coming to Lebanon with the leadership of Israel. I have urged them to implement the elements of [resolution] 1701 including the stopping of over-flights, including the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Ghajar, and including the stopping of illegal transfer of arms and weapons into this part of Lebanon. There are many other issues: the border management between Lebanon and Syria to prevent these arms transfers, all these are important elements. I am continuing to work hard to implement fully this resolution.
Q: What role do you see for Iran to play to help solve the Gaza crisis and prevent escalating the tensions in southern Lebanon?
SG: I have been spending restless days since the outbreak of this Gaza situation. This visit to Lebanon is part of my mission of peace, talking with leaders in the region, leaders of the world. I think the elements for a package to bring a ceasefire are coming closer. There seem to be still remaining some technical issues which need to be conclusively agreed between the parties. I have been urging that they first agree to an immediate ceasefire and continue their negotiations to make this ceasefire durable and sustainable and which can be respected by all the parties concerned. That is our goal and aim. Unfortunately as of this moment we have not seen that happen.
Now the situation in southern Lebanon is also very important. In December last year and January this year there were rockets firing and Israelis also returned [fire]. These are very worrisome and very serious [incidents], which I have condemned strongly. UNIFIL and LAF have taken measures swiftly and decisively, which have been able to calm down the situation, to contain the situation. That was encouraging. I have urged the Israelis, and I am now urging those who might have fired these rockets, to refrain, to exercise maximum restraint to maintain this situation. Any actions may destabilize the situation which we have, with difficulty, been able to maintain. This situation of peace and stability, 'though calm, is still fragile. We must keep this stability and peace here.
Thank you very much.
Off-the-Cuff on 17 January 2009