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17 August 2020

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.

Good afternoon.  I’ll stop apologizing for the delays because no point in apologizing every day.  Happy Monday to all of you.

**Belarus

I’ll start with Belarus, where I’ve been asked for an update.  I can tell you that we’re very much aware of the demonstrations and the events that have been going on in that country.

For his part, the Secretary-General believes that the grievances of the people must be heard, and that repression is not that answer.

As you will have seen on Friday evening, we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General said he is closely following the developments in the country and underlines the importance of enabling all Belarusians to exercise their civil and political rights.  This includes expressing their views peacefully in accordance with the law.  Authorities must show restraint in responding to the demonstrations.  Allegations of torture and other mistreatment of people under detention must be thoroughly investigated.

The Secretary-General calls on all Belarusians to address the post-election grievances through dialogue and to preserve peace in the country.

**Somalia

Turning to Somalia, where I’ve also been asked for comment, and I can tell you that the Secretary-General strongly condemns Sunday’s attack on the Elite Hotel in Mogadishu, resulting in the deaths of at least 16 people and many more injured.

He extends his deepest sympathies and condolences to the families of the deceased and wishes a speedy recovery to those injured.  He calls on all the perpetrators of this heinous act to be held accountable.

The attack demonstrates that the fight against Al-Shabaab and against all forms of violent extremism in Somalia must continue.  The Secretary-General reiterates the support and solidarity of the United Nations with the Government and people of Somalia in their pursuit of peace, stability and prosperity.

And, for his part, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on the ground, James Swan, said that this savagery has no place in the country that is being built by Somalis and merits the strongest condemnation.

**Lebanon

And an update for you on what the UN is doing in Lebanon to help in the wake of the Beirut Port explosions:

We, along with our partners, continue to conduct needs assessments and to deliver emergency assistance to people most in need following the blasts.

More than 70,000 workers are believed to now be unemployed due to the explosions.  This has a direct impact for many households, on top of the 220,000 workers estimated to have lost their jobs as a result of the financial crisis that began in October last year, not considering those left jobless by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some 40,000 buildings were damaged, with 3,000 residential structures severely damaged.  At least 2,000 doctors were either injured or their clinics were destroyed.

Yesterday, Lebanon confirmed 439 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the number of cases to 8,881, including 103 deaths.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees announced that, in the last 24 hours, four COVID-19 deaths have been recorded among Palestine refugees in Lebanon.  This brings to eight the total number of deaths from the virus among that population.

And yesterday, the Spanish contingent serving under the UN flag [with] the UN Interim Force in Lebanon in the mission’s Sector East donated firefighting equipment to the Lebanese Civil Defence.  This is a public civil emergency service that carries out firefighting and search-and-rescue activities across the country.

The donation to seven Civil Defence centres will help up to 175,000 people living in the Marjayoun district, where the mission’s East Sector is headquartered.

For its part, the UN Refugee Agency is channelling resources and assistance to where they are most needed.

UNHCR is mobilizing $35 million for its emergency response to the most vulnerable Lebanese, refugees and migrant households in the capital.

UNHCR’s aid stockpile in the country was not affected by the explosion, and that includes shelter kits, blankets, plastic sheeting, mattresses and other critical items that have been made available to the Lebanese Red Cross and other partners on the ground.

**South Sudan — Peacekeeping

Turning to South Sudan and the clashes in Tonj that we’ve been telling you about, our peacekeeping colleagues inform us that the UN Mission in the country carried out an air patrol yesterday to the village of Romich, the centre of the fighting.

The UN peacekeepers were joined on the patrol by the Governor of Warrap province.

The UN Mission says that the local market and clinic were looted and torched during the fighting between the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces and armed youth.

The peacekeepers spoke to injured young people and to local officials who said that up to 150 soldiers, armed youth, and civilians were killed.

The Mission’s human rights team is on the ground and is working to verify the actual number of casualties.  While the situation is calm, it remains tense.

To deter further violence, peacekeepers are establishing a temporary base in Romich and will carry out regular patrols to protect civilians.

**Peacekeeping COVID-19 Response

Staying in South Sudan, but on the COVID-19 response, the UN Mission has initiated extensive renovations of the Bentiu Infectious Diseases Centre to turn it into a fully equipped isolation facility for COVID-19 patients.  The peacekeeping Mission has upgraded two accommodation units, three ward units, one triage unit, a kitchen and a laundry.  This is part of ongoing civil-military cooperation activities to address the needs of host communities.

Meanwhile, in neighbouring Central African Republic, the peacekeeping mission there has provided masks, hand-washing stations, boxes of soap and radios to educational officials in Bouar [in Nana Mambéré prefecture].

In Bria, in the country’s east, the Mission has also organized an information session on the virus for displaced members of the Association of Disabled People.

**Mauritius — Oil Spill

Turning to Mauritius, the UN team there, led by Resident Coordinator Christine Umutoni, is supporting the Government-led response to the oil spill.  The UN is providing technical support on the impact assessment and environmental protection, also focusing on affected communities.  For its part, the UN Development Programme has geared up some of its initiatives to immediately allocate $200,000 to address the impact of the spill, while mobilizing funding from different environmental protection schemes.  Also, the International Maritime Organization, the UN Environment Programme and the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs have deployed an oil spill expert to support the Government.  For its part, the World Health Organization is supporting the public health response, while the International Organization for Migration is assessing the risks to communities.  Also, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has provided forensic investigation and legal support.  UNESCO’s Oceanographic Institute is helping with remote mapping with the UN satellite imagery and analysis.

The Regional IOM Director, Charles Kwenin, has arrived in Mauritius today, on behalf of the United Nations’ Regional Directors for Eastern and Southern Africa, to offer high-level support and solidarity to the Government to help assess the situation and support the UN team.

**Sudan Floods

On Sudan, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the continuing heavy rains and floods have impacted nearly 220,000 people in 17 of the country’s 18 states.

More than 20,000 houses have been completely destroyed and an additional 20,000 more have been damaged.

Some 2,000 water sources have now been contaminated or are non-functional, compromising access to clean water in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The collapse of the Bout Earth Dam in Blue Nile State on 29 July could impact 100,000 people’s access to water.

The Government and aid organizations are providing plastic sheeting, tents, medicine, water purification supplies and mosquito nets.  In Darfur, they are providing shelter, and water and health assistance.

The quick response has been possible because UN agencies and our partners prepositioned supplies for 250,000 people before the rains started.

But our colleagues warn that supplies are being depleted rapidly and more support, including from donors, is urgently needed.

We, along with our partners, are appealing for $1.6 billion to provide critical aid in Sudan this year, but only 43 per cent of that appeal has been received.

**Bolivia

And lastly, you will have seen that, late Friday, we issued a note from the [Secretary-General’s] Personal Envoy for Bolivia, Jean Arnault, where he welcomed the agreement reached among the Executive Branch, the Plurinational Legislative Assembly and the Plurinational Electoral Organ regarding the 2020 general elections.

He said this consensus is a fundamental achievement that provides guarantees regarding the date of the elections and it helps to overcome the political divisions and the uncertainty that worried many sectors of Bolivian society.  With this consensus, he said, the path towards a reliable electoral process whose results are respected by all is effectively consolidated.

He added that the UN will support the country with a team of international and national experts from various agencies to provide the assistance required.

All right.  I think I have spoken enough.  Let me get some water, some glasses and some questions.

**Questions and Answers

Iftikhar, you seem to be the first one in the race, so please.

No Iftikhar.  Okay?

Edie.

Correspondent:  Sorry, Steph, I am here.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Go ahead.  Go ahead.  I’m sorry.

Question:  On Friday, the Secretary‑General made a strong appeal to the authorities in Yemen for the… for allowing a UN team to inspect this disabled tanker.  Has there been any response?

Spokesman:  Unfortunately, nothing positive to report so far except to say that the discussions are ongoing, and we’re doing our best to answer all the questions that the Ansar Allah authorities may have.

Correspondent:  Thank you, sir.

Spokesman:  Ms. Lederer.

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  First, did the Secretary‑General have any reaction to the vote in the Security Council on the extension of the arms embargo against Iran which failed?

Spokesman:  To be very direct, no.  We do not have a comment on that decision taken by the Security Council or…

[cross talk]

Question:  I have another question.

Spokesman:  Yes, ma’am.

Question:  On Yemen, I note that Martin Griffiths will be speaking to the Security Council.  I believe it’s a closed session.  Is there any chance that we can get to speak…

Spokesman:  I think it’s a very… I’m advocating for you, let me put it that way.  Whether or not I succeed is a much different issue.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have two questions.  First, in a Tweet by Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov, where he said he welcomes the agreement between United Arab Emirates and Israel and he said it stopped the annexation — that what he wrote, “stopped” — first, it’s an in… completely inaccurate to describe the agreement that it would stop the annexation.  And, second, neither Israel said that nor the United Arab Emirates.  The United Arab Emirates retreated from mentioning the annexation to say that we are a sovereign country, and we can decide what we want to decide.  So, he… it’s… I mean, he trying to portray the agreement as something focusing on stopping the annexation…

Spokesman:  I mean, I…

[cross talk]

Question:  … is inaccurate.

Spokesman:  All I can tell you is we stand by the Secretary‑General’s own statement and Mr. Mladenov’s Tweet.

Question:  But we have been trying, Stéphane, to… I sent you messages.  Ibtisam ask you the same, and you continue to portray the agreement as if it’s intentionally directed to stop the annexation, which is inaccurate.

Spokesman:  I… we…

Question:  Yeah.

Spokesman:  I don’t think…

[cross talk]

Question:  Can you explain that?

Spokesman:  … the statement said it was intentionally directed to that.  This is what we have taken away from it, and I will leave it at that.

Question:  Well, don’t you have the courage to revisit the statement and say, ‘Oh, we mentioned that, but, however, it has been rec… corrected by both parties, not by one…’

Spokesman:  It’s not an issue of courage.  If we need to restate our position, we will.

What is your second question?

Question:  My second question, on Saturday evening, near the city of Tulkarm, near the checkpoint of Jabara, J‑a‑b‑a‑r‑a, a young Palestinian — his name is [inaudible] — was run by a settler and killed at the checkpoint.  And no mention of that crime against a civilian, who was, just happened to be at the checkpoint.  And the settler who killed him, and no mention of that.  I tried to find any reference to this crime similar to that girl who was killed in her house, and no mentioning.

Spokesman:  I…

[cross talk]

Question:  If the incident happened the other way around, it will be different situation altogether.

Spokesman:  I’ve seen the… those press reports.  Let me look into it with our colleagues, and I will get back to you.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Alan Bulkaty.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Can you hear me?  Great.  I have a follow‑up on Edie’s question actually.  After this resolution on arms embargo extension failed on Friday, the United States are going to trigger a so‑called snap‑back of the previous sanctions on Iran.  Does the SG have any comment on this situation?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  No.  Listen, our basic position in support of the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] remains unchanged.  What Member States decide to do will be their sovereign decision.  At this point, I don’t have any detailed comment for you.

Lenka.

Question:  Thank you.  I have just a follow‑up.  Is the Secretary‑General planning to reach out to the US Mission or maybe the US authorities in that regard on the snap‑back?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  We are in constant touch with many members of the Security Council on a number of issues, but it is, and it is clear that these discussions, these decisions are decisions taken by Security Council members.

Signore Vaccara.

Question:  Thank you very much, Stéphane.  My question is, first question is about Lebanon and Israel.  Israel, today, the Ambassador sent to the Security Council a protest with a photo attaching… there was also a photo attached about it proved that Hizbullah infiltrated last month in Israel.  And my question is, how the Secretary‑General now he’s, is worried about the situation there?  Because UNIFIL, we know, needs a… the… you know, the mandate to be renewed, and there is this situation where it looks like Israel has proved or says it proved the Mission, that UNIFIL is not able to stop Hizbullah to infiltrate Israel.  So, what the… how the Secretary‑General is worried about that?  And then I have another question.

Spokesman:  I mean, the Secretary‑General’s concern and observations regarding the situation on the Blue Line have been expressed in the various reports in the… I would refer you to the recent letter to the Security Council in which he’d said they were still waiting for permission to move in on a number of places and expressed, I think, some concern about the situation on the ground.

We, obviously, think that the… it is very important to renew the mandate of UNIFIL as the Force, as the UN Force is a force for stability along the Blue Line.

Mr. Avni…

Correspondent:  I have another question, but maybe…

Spokesman:  Go ahead, Stefano.

Question:  Yes.  No, and the other question is, one week ago, the Secretary‑General had a conversation on the phone with the Foreign Minister of Italy, Luigi Di Maio, about Mario Paciolla death and seven days later, do you have any news that you would like to share with us?

Spokesman:  I… it’s not that I’d like or don’t like.  I don’t have anything to share with you, but if, I will see if we can get some sort of an update because I always like sharing things.  I can’t always.  That’s all.

Question:  So you, just… to confirm, you tell me that you don’t have any, any news.  It’s not that you can’t share news.

Spokesman:  I, let me try to be as precise of it.  I do not have any updates I have, I can share with you at this point.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  But I hate to hold on to updates, so as soon as I have something, I will share it.  I’m a good sharer.

Benny.

Question:  Speaking of holding on, follow‑up to Abdelhamid’s question…

Spokesman:  And I’m barely holding on.

Question:  I can see that.  Follow‑up on Abdelhamid’s question, look, the statement that was made Thursday addressed one aspect of that big news of the day.  It ignored the, completely the other aspect, which is the first time in quarter century that an Arab country and Israel have agreed for full relations.

So, my question is, does the Secretary‑General agree with countries in the region, like Egypt and Bahrain and Oman and others, that this was a positive thing?  Does he agree with Iran, Turkey, the Palestinian Authority and others that it was a bad thing?  Or did he just run out of ink, in which case, I have some toners I can donate.

Spokesman:  Well, you know, I’m glad that the statement has brought you and Abdelhamid closer in your displeasure…

Correspondent:  [cross talk] Always.

Spokesman:  …of what we said.  So, at least we’ve achieved something here.

Joking aside, no, I think the statement was very clear in welcoming this as a positive step for peace in the region.

Question:  It didn’t address that.

Spokesman:  That’s your interpretation.  I think it did.  I think the, my, our initial reaction, when it was announced at the briefing, was also a positive one.  We are always for peace, for events that bring people closer to peace.

Question:  But it addressed mostly the issue of the… the decision by Israel to stop annexation moves…

Spokesman:  Well, we believe…

[cross talk]

Question:  It made no comment…

[Cross talk]

Spokesman:  We believe…

Question:  … in the statement about whether…

Spokesman:  We believe that’s a very important part of it.

Question:  And the UAE and Israel renewing relations, not so important?  Because it wasn’t addressed.

Spokesman:  That’s not, Benny, I will leave the interpretation to you…

Question:  It’s not interpretation.  It was not in the statement.

Spokesman:  I think it was very clear from the statement that we welcome anything that…

Question:  I have to reread it, but I think maybe you should reread it, too…

Spokesman:  Okay.

Question:  …since you wrote it.

Spokesman:  We can do that, we can do that together.

Question:  And as for ink, I swear to God, I have some spare ink toners at home, so if you ran out of ink, no problem…

[cross talk]

Spokesman:  Well, I think it was Mark Twain who said, never go to war with someone who has an unending supply of ink.  So, Benny, I will, not that I would ever go to war with you, but I won’t keep this discussion going.

Question:  Buys ink by the barrel, by the way.  That was the…

Spokesman:  Exactly.  Okay, now that we’ve invoked Mark Twain, I think we can leave and we shall, unless somebody else has a question, we shall see each other mañana.  Bye.

For information media. Not an official record.