Welcome to the United Nations. It's your world.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Off-the-Cuff

Secretary-General's press encounter

Rome, Italy, 13 July 2006

SG: Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am deeply alarmed at the escalation of violence in Lebanon and Israel. Parts of Lebanon are under blockade and heavy Israeli military action, while Israel is being subjected to indiscriminate attacks by Hezbollah. Both sides have threatened further escalations, leaving the populations of Lebanon and northern Israel in fear for their safety. Israeli attacks have hit important civilian infrastructure, destroying bridges and roads as well damaging Beirut's international airport. I am particularly concerned at the suffering that has been unleashed on civilians. Tens of Lebanese civilians have already been killed as a result of Israeli operations, and many more have been injured. Hezbollah is hitting Israeli population centres, civilians have been killed and many others wounded.

I am also gravely concerned by the situation in Gaza, where Palestinian civilians are also paying a bitter price, both from heavy Israeli military operations and from an alarming humanitarian situation that threatens to get worse. In relation to this, the UN and other partners are meeting in the Geneva tomorrow to see what can be done to help the humanitarian situation in the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories]. Many Palestinian civilians have been wounded or killed, including entire families. Rocket attacks by Palestinian militants continue to endanger Israeli civilians.

I condemn all actions which target civilians, or which unduly endanger them due to their disproportionate or indiscriminate character. I would like to remind the parties that under the law of armed conflict, attacks must not be directed against civilian objects. In particular, they have an obligation to exercise precaution and to respect the proportionality principle in all military operations so as to prevent unnecessary suffering among the civilian population.

I call on all parties to adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law and international agreements.

I and leaders from around the world have been working around the clock, as have my representatives on the ground, to find a solution to the crisis, to urge restraint and prevent these situations spiraling even further out of control. I can only hope that the parties heed our counsel, and that regional players who have influence will do likewise. Reckless and dangerous actions will only lead to further bloodshed and instability, inflaming an already highly volatile region.

To further our efforts, I have decided to dispatch my senior adviser, Mr. Vijay Nambiar, to the region. He and his team which will also include Alvaro de Soto, who is my representative in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and Terje Roed-Larsen, whom you all know well, will be in Cairo tomorrow, where they will consult on Saturday with the Secretary-General of the Arab League and the Foreign Ministers of the Arab League. From there they will proceed to other locations and other capitals, working to get all parties to step back from the brink of an even more deadly conflict. I hope that all concerned will extend to this mission their full support, in the cause of peace.

I will now take your questions.

Q: Will your special envoy have special powers to discuss the issues with the States involved, including Israel?

SG: Yes, I expect the team to visit the capitals in the countries, including Israel. I expect them to be in Israel, I would expect them to go to Lebanon, Damascus and, as I said, they will start in Egypt and they may go to other locations.

Q: Have there been already reactions to your announcement?

SG: I expect they would be welcome. It is a very dangerous and volatile situation, an explosive situation, and we'll need to do what we can to contain it and I have been in touch with many leaders around the world and they have all been very supportive and cooperative. The Security Council President is also fully informed of my actions.

Q: How can you and the Security Council deal with all these important issues all together?

SG: The Council has had to deal with many problems in our world. Unfortunately, we live in a turbulent world. The Council is used to dealing with many crises at the same time, and I am used to dealing with many crises at the same time. On the North Korea issue, the Council is fully seized and they are having serious discussions on what sort of action they take and I hope they will be able to bring that to conclusion very shortly. They are also seized on the situation in Gaza and, now, the situation in Lebanon. But these two situations are linked and I hope we will be able to find a way of getting the release of the abducted Israeli soldiers to try and defuse the situation, contain it before it expands and escalates, because we should all be concerned. Yesterday it was Gaza, today it is Lebanon, where would it be tomorrow? And we do not want it to spread any further and I would hope the Council would be able to also pronounce itself.

With regard to Iran, obviously it is a very complex chess game, and I think it is going to be long, tiring and frustrating, and we will all have to be patient and not to make any moves that could further complicate the situation. What is important is that there is a serious proposal on the table and I would urge the Iranians to give a clear signal that they consider the proposals a solid and constructive basis for moving forward, even if they are seeking further clarification from the six, and, I think, the work that Mr. [Ali] Larijani and [Javier] Solana are doing was to provide that clarification, but they should give a signal and eventually get back to the table and negotiate a solution. I still maintain that diplomacy is possible even though there is a decision by the six to revert to the Security Council. Referral to the Security Council does not mean the end of diplomacy. The end of diplomacy is not here yet and we should pursue our efforts.

Q: Regarding your call to halt attacks on civilians, do you think they have done enough not to hit civilians?

SG: I think when you have a situation of war the protagonists have to be very careful to focus on military targets and avoid situations where civilians get hurt, avoid targeting civilian infrastructures, facilities that civilians need for their livelihood, because if you do that, you are causing quite a great deal of hardship for the civilians. That is why I am urging them to respect international humanitarian law, which is very clear on this issue. Thank you very much.