The following is a near‑verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.
Good afternoon, everyone.
Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said on Twitter today that the UN is working closely with Egypt and all concerned to ensure that Gaza steps back from the brink.
He warned that the escalation in the past 24 hours is extremely dangerous and reckless. He said that the firing of rockets must stop and that restraint needs to be shown by all, adding that no effort must be spared to reverse the spiral of violence.
In a statement we issued last night, the Secretary‑General urged all parties to exercise maximum restraint.
The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, today welcomed reports of the reduction of hostilities in and around Hodeidah City, stressing that this is a crucial step to prevent further humanitarian suffering and to build a more enabling environment for the political process.
He called on all parties to the conflict to show continued restraint, adding that the people of Yemen have suffered enough.
Mr. Griffiths said that he is confident that the parties are ready to work on a political solution. He is encouraged by the constructive engagement received from all sides, noting that the logistical preparations are under way to prepare for the forthcoming round of consultations.
He also reiterated that the UN stands ready to re‑engage the parties on a negotiated agreement for Hodeidah which would protect the port and preserve the humanitarian pipeline.
In a separate statement, Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock echoed Mr. Griffiths’ sentiments, asking that the parties implement a cessation of hostilities, not least in and around all the infrastructure and facilities on which the aid operations and commercial imports rely.
This morning, the Security Council held an open meeting on Iraq.
In his final briefing to the Council as the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative, Ján Kubiš said that, while the government formation process has not been without controversy, political blocs have demonstrated a willingness to act in support of incoming Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.
Mr. Kubiš said that competition and differences have been largely political and not sectarian, and, in this way, a break from the past.
He also commended the exemplary peaceful transfer of power between the outgoing Prime Minister, Haider al‑Abadi, and the new Prime Minister.
As we have announced, Mr. Kubiš will be succeeded by Jeanine Hennis‑Plasschaert of the Netherlands.
This afternoon, the Security Council will meet on the Democratic Republic of the Congo and will receive a briefing from the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative, Leila Zerrougui.
**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels
Tonight, the Deputy Secretary-General will travel to Warsaw, Poland, to meet with senior Government officials in advance of the Conference of Parties that will take place in Katowice from 3 to 14 December 2018. She will also meet with the UN team based in Warsaw during her visit.
On 14 November, the Deputy Secretary‑General will travel to Kathmandu, Nepal, to attend the 6th Global Campaign for Education World Assembly which will be held from 16 to 18 November. She will also meet with senior Government officials and with the UN country team during her visit.
And on 16 November, the Deputy Secretary‑General, on transit in New Delhi, India, will also meet with senior Government officials regarding COP 24 [twenty-fourth session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change], as well as with the UN country team.
We continue to receive disturbing reports of ongoing air strikes in Syria’s Deir ez‑Zor Governorate.
Yesterday, air strikes on the town of Al‑Sha’fa in eastern rural Deir ez‑Zor reportedly killed or injured dozens of civilians and damaged several houses.
The air strikes follow other recent reported attacks during which civilians have been killed and injured and civilian infrastructure damaged.
The United Nations continues to call on all the parties to the conflict to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law, including ensuring the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) today called on countries to take faster and more resolute action to help end statelessness.
The High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, urged politicians, Governments and legislators around the world to take and support decisive action to eliminate statelessness globally by 2024.
He said, “Humanly, ethically and politically, it is the right thing to do. Every person on this planet has the right to nationality and the right to say I BELONG.”
Four years ago, UNHCR launched its #IBelong campaign to end statelessness, and since then, more than 166,000 people have acquired or had their nationality confirmed; 20 States have acceded to the Statelessness Conventions; and 9 States have established or improved statelessness determination procedures. However, despite these accomplishments, millions of people still live in limbo around the world, with the majority to be found in countries in Asia and Africa.
You can find more information on the #IBelong campaign on UNHCR’s website.
**Questions and Answers
And that is it for me. Do we have any questions? Yes, Edie?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet says that Bangladesh’s Government should halt plans to repatriate more than 2,200 Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar. She says such a move would endanger their lives. Does the Secretary‑General agree with that assessment?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the Secretary‑General believes the Governments involved need to listen to the words of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees yesterday, Filippo Grandi. As you remember, he said that UNHCR does not believe that current conditions in Rakhine State are conducive to the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of refugees from Bangladesh. And he did emphasize that the responsibility to prove those conditions rests with Myanmar. Of course, we’ve thanked… been very appreciative to the Government of Bangladesh for the tremendous generosity that the people and the Government of Bangladesh have shown the Rohingya refugees who have been there. But we have our concerns, and I think that they’ve been very forcefully expressed by Mr. Grandi and by Ms. Bachelet. Yes, Masood?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. On this Middle East, between what’s happened… killings in Gaza by the Israelis and in Yemen… what’s happening in Yemen, it has become a powder keg of… I mean, of violence. Does the Secretary‑General have any plans to visit the countries in Middle East, for instance, Israel and the border of Gaza and Yemen? Because that is where the whole thing is… international peace and security is at risk.
Deputy Spokesman: There are no plans to announce at this point for the Secretary‑General to visit that region. What I would like to point out is that his envoys on the ground have been hard at work and have been making progress in Yemen, as you’ve just heard the statement that we put out from Mr. Griffiths, and also in Gaza, with respect to the work that Nickolay Mladenov is doing with regard to the parties and with the assistance of Egypt. Yeah?
Question: But do you realize how serious a situation it is in Gaza and in Yemen? [inaudible]
Deputy Spokesman: We’re well aware of how serious the situation is. At this point, like I said, we’re making progress with the efforts that are being undertaken by the envoys on the ground. Yes, Linda?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. There are reports that Kuwait and, I believe, Bolivia have called for an emergency meeting of the Security Council on Gaza. Is… can you confirm this…?
Deputy Spokesman: I cannot. We’re aware of the reports that some of the members of the Security Council might want a meeting on this. But, ultimately, it is up to China, as the president of the Security Council, to determine whether anything will be scheduled. Joe?
Question: Also, I’ve just been informed by one of my colleagues here, at least according to Associated Press, that a ceasefire has been brokered and accepted, reportedly by the militants in… Palestinian militants in Gaza, not yet by Israel. Do you have any knowledge of that and any comment?
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah, I do. I… we are aware of the latest reports. Egypt and the UN have been working very hard to ensure that there’s a return to the ceasefire arrangements of 2014. Special Coordinator Mladenov believes that it is possible to de‑escalate this current round of violence in the interest of both Palestinians and Israelis. We continue to urge all parties to exercise maximum restraint and underscore the need to undertake all efforts to avoid another war in Gaza, to improve the humanitarian situation of Palestinians in Gaza and support the return of the legitimate Palestinian Government to Gaza.
Question: Well, that… that’s aspirational, but I’m… I’m asking whether you have any knowledge, or could you find out for us, whether actually there’s been some progress at least, you know, on one side to secure a commitment to a ceasefire?
Deputy Spokesman: This is precisely our response to the late developments on the ground. We’re monitoring the developments, and this is how we’re responding. Yes, Evelyn?
Question: Right. Do we know where the Yemen talks would be held? Is it Geneva or somewhere… somewhere else?
Deputy Spokesman: There’s no venue to announce just yet. When we have the arrangements in place, we’ll let you know both where and when it will be held.
Question: And on the… I have a couple more. On the Rohingya, where would they go if they return? Does anyone know?
Deputy Spokesman: What the High Commissioner for Refugees had said yesterday, if you’ll recall, he said that what we want to make sure is that the refugees reportedly verified by Myanmar as having the right to return should be allowed to visit their places of origin in Rakhine State or other places to which they may choose to return. So they… then they can make an independent assessment of where they would like to go.
Question: One more.
Deputy Spokesman: Hold on. No, there’s other people. Yes. Abdelhamid first.
Question: Thank you. In his tweet, Mr. Mladenov started with saying, “Rockets must stop.” So, that’s his beginning of the… of a position statement. It’s known and Israel doesn’t deny that this, the whole episode started with an Israeli incursions inside Gaza. They entered. They went to house, and they killed six people there in the house. And why he started with “rockets should stop” instead of saying incursions should stop?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, first of all, Abdelhamid, you’ll have seen the Secretary‑General’s statement from last night.
Correspondent: I saw that.
Deputy Spokesman: He’s made very clear that he wants all sides to exercise maximum restraint. I just said right now from Mr. Mladenov that he is urging all parties to exercise maximum restraint and wants everyone to undertake all efforts to avoid another war in Gaza, to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza and support the return of the legitimate Palestinian Government. Those are his priorities, and this is where we are placing emphasis.
Question: But Palestinian groups had been restrained from firing rockets for months now. Now, why he started with “rockets should stop” when Israel started…
Deputy Spokesman: We’re well aware of the need to avoid any escalation of the situation, given the tremendous consequences that will have on the ground for everyone involved, including Palestinians and Israelis alike.
Question: Can I say one…?
Deputy Spokesman: Hold on… Everyone wants three but let’s move it around. Yes, Masood?
Question: This is just going to be a follow‑up on Gaza situation. I was just going to ask about the same thing that my friend Abdelhamid was asking. Now, I am sorry I have to shift gears. I want to ask a question about Karachi, situation in Karachi. In Karachi Press Club, armed men entered the Press Club and harassed the journalists over there. Do you have anything on that? And, also, similarly, on… in… in Bangladesh, Shahidul Islam, who has been under arrest for last hundred years… hundred days, sorry, hundred days, that the whole… I mean, the… the… between… the subcontinental diaspora has asked for his release, and nothing has happened so far. Do you have any comment on that?
Deputy Spokesman: Our comment in both situations is we believe that Governments and all parties on the ground need to respect the rights of journalists and allow them to go about their work without hindrance or interference.
Question: So what about Karachi?
Deputy Spokesman: The same thing is… the same position is the case with the Karachi Press Club. Yes, Linda?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I gather that the Secretary‑General is in Washington today to give an award. I was wondering if he’ll be meeting with any [Donald] Trump Administration officials or congressional reps.
Deputy Spokesman: No, there’s no meetings with officials from the Government to announce. I believe the Secretary‑General will be meeting with the UN agency officials who are in Washington and talking to them about their work. But, aside from that, the other big event, as we pointed out yesterday, is to speak at the ceremony in which the Templeton Prize is to be awarded to King Abdullah of Jordan. Yes, Evelyn now. Now you and then Abdelhamid.
Question: Okay. There have been reports that the renewed US sanctions against Iran are squeezing access to vital medicines. Do you have anything on that?
Deputy Spokesman: We’re not aware of how this is affecting the Iranian economy or Iranian society. Of course, we have made clear the continuing need for all parties to support the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPOA], and I would draw, in that respect, your attention to the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] recently did report on the continued compliance by Iran to the inspections regime. Yes?
Question: Israel destroyed the Al‑Aqsa TV satellite station. Is there any position on that?
Deputy Spokesman: As with what your colleague Masood was saying right now, again, we believe that journalists need to go about their work without hindrance and without attacks from the government. And, of course, our point of principle, as I just mentioned with regard to Syria, is the need, when countries are undergoing operations, to avoid places of civilian concentration and to avoid targeting civilian infrastructure. Yes - no, Iftikhar?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I’m sure you have seen Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s statement that they are close to an agreement with Taliban. Does the UN have any information about that?
Deputy Spokesman: Not at this stage. Obviously, we have been encouraging and supporting efforts to come to agreement, but we’ll have to see what happens, and we’ll respond accordingly if there is anything. Yes?
Question: Farhan, on this situation… again, situation in Gaza, Israel has said that they will continue attacks inside Gaza as long as… so, they have all the arms and… armed and everything else. And these… Gazans are literally… I mean, this thing that they have been fighting, rocket one… that is not the case. The biggest arms are with Israel. Inside Gaza, they can attack at will, and that has been proved in 2014 and… and so forth. So, when is it that the Secretary‑General is going to be himself involved? Because this is a situation which is really bad.
Deputy Spokesman: The Secretary‑General is involved in many ways. You’ve seen the statement we issued on this yesterday, and, like I said, his envoys are at work on the situation. Have a good afternoon, everyone.