SECRETARY-GENERAL’S PRESS ENCOUNTER FOLLOWING MEETING WITH THE ARAB GROUP ON THE SITUATION IN GAZA

I would like to welcome Secretary-General of the League of Arab States Amre Moussa and distinguished Foreign Ministers of the Follow-up Committee. 

We had a very good exchange of views on the very serious matters of the security situation in Gaza and southern Israel. I think that this meeting has provided an excellent and appropriate opportunity for us to discuss how we can bring this violence to an immediate end and restore peace and stability in the region, and also a durable peace process which can be fully respected by the parties concerned in the region.

We have agreed to work very closely so that the Security Council can take decisive and swift and credible action for a binding resolution to bring an immediate end to this crisis and also allow humanitarian assistance to be delivered by opening the crossings. We will continue to work very closely in the coming days with the Security Council members and other key leaders in the region.

As you know, President [Mahmoud] Abbas is coming to New York tomorrow, and I understand that the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia and Egypt are also going to join us tomorrow. And on my part, as you know, I have been spending restless days since the outbreak of this violence since December 27, and I have been engaging with a number of leaders in the region and other world leaders to discuss this matter to bring an immediate ceasefire and also allow humanitarian assistance.

And we have also agreed to discuss a credible mechanism to ensure the protection of the Palestinian people, as well as humanitarian assistance, and to prevent the further occurrence of this situation. I think we have some convergence of opinions on the major elements, which can be the basis of the discussions at the Security Council.

I am going to continue my efforts. I am also looking forward to my meeting with President [George] Bush tomorrow in Washington. I will, of course, take that opportunity to discuss this issue. 

Thank you very much and I will give the floor to Secretary-General Amre Moussa.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, we all know how angry you are, and how disappointed you are by the failure of the Security Council to stop the killing and the fighting in the Middle East so far in Gaza. But there are people now watching you live in the Middle East, especially in the areas where they are living under fire. What can you say to them to reassure them that this Security Council and this prestigious international organization will act within a day or two to put an end to this fighting and these massacres?

SG: I understand that Security Council members have been discussing this matter very seriously, and on the other hand it is regrettable that calls by the Security Council have not been heeded by the parties concerned. Now the Security Council should live up to its responsibilities under the United Nations Charter, and I understand that they are working very hard. And with the presence of all the distinguished Foreign Ministers from Arab [countries], and also President Abbas coming, I hope we can find some mutually agreeable resolutions adopted.

Q: About your visit tomorrow to Washington D.C. – how far are you going to push the administration because we all understand, everybody in the land understands, that the United States was the hindrance for the issue of any document of the Security Council to stop this war. What are you going to do? What are you going to tell President Bush tomorrow when you are with him? 

SG: I’m going to stress the importance of bringing this violent situation to an immediate halt, with the durable and permanent systems which can be respected fully by all the parties concerned, and we will also discuss about how we can bring humanitarian assistance to those many civilian populations who are suffering from this current situation. We will also discuss all other mechanisms.

Q: How are you going to stop the civilian killings in Gaza, and what is your vision of how to deal with Hamas? Hamas is not here. How are you going to implement any agreement you reach while Hamas is not around the table, sir? 

SG: I have repeatedly stated on numerous occasions, not only during these recent days, that civilian populations, wherever in the world, should be fully protected, and I have stated my strong concerns about the casualties of human populations. I believe that there should be unity among Palestinian peoples. This is up to the Palestinian people to reunify themselves between Fatah and Hamas.

Q: Secretary-General, what about a UN peace force for Gaza? 

SG: Now, I leave all these issues to … there are many ideas and many elements on how to ensure peace and stability in Gaza.  That is what Member States should decide. I am in support of such ideas.

Q: Mr. Ban, you spoke of the points of convergence that has been reached. Now, can you share with us these points and the points of differences and whether you are going to take a message to Washington in order to get over the hurdle? Have you been asked to take any messages with some details? 

SG: I think through our meeting today we have convergence of positions and we have discussed all possible, common elements which can be a basis for discussions by the Security Council members and which can also lay down the ground work for peace and stability, a durable and permanent one in Gaza.