Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York




The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Enrique Yeves, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

**Guest at Noon Today

Our guests at the noon briefing today will be John Ging, Director of Operations in Gaza for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), via video link from Gaza; and John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, who will speak to you on the humanitarian situation in Gaza.  We thought it was important that we keep on focusing on what is happening right now there.

** Gaza

The Secretary-General, in a town hall meeting with UN staff this morning, said that the situation in Gaza and southern Israel has worsened dramatically in the past 48 hours.  Civilian suffering was already alarming, he said, but Israel’s launch of a ground operation has only made it worse.  The Secretary-General has spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and expressed his extreme concern and disappointment.  He stressed the need for Israel to do everything possible to protect civilians and to allow humanitarian assistance to reach those in need.  He said there must be an immediate end to violence on both sides.

In a statement yesterday, the Secretary-General regretted that the Security Council has not been able to reach a consensus, including during its emergency session held on Saturday evening, in order to bring about an end to the violence.  The Secretary-General will be working actively with members of the Council and other key players, in particular Arab leaders, whom he will see at 3 today, to facilitate the emergence of a consensus.

The Secretary-General added that he is extremely concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation on the ground.  We are in close contact with the Israeli authorities to press them to open not only the Kerem Shalom crossing, but also Karni and Nahal Oz, to allow in, particularly, wheat grain and fuel for the power plant, as well as other essential supplies.  And of course, you will hear a little more from our guests, who will join us in a few minutes.

** Gaza – Humanitarian Situation

On that last point, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Maxwell Gaylard, said that the fuel crossing at Nahal Oz was opened today for the transfer of urgently needed industrial fuel with the assistance of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.  We hope that this crossing will now remain open in order for sufficient supplies to enter over the coming days, and for the Gaza power plant to continue to operate on a more sustained basis.

As of today, Gaylard said at a press briefing, our estimates are that the Palestinian fatalities are 500 and rising, and the injured are 2,500 and rising.  He added that movement within the Strip is a severe challenge.  Ambulances and medical workers are facing increasing difficulty reaching the wounded, and some have been killed in doing so.  Getting medical supplies to where they need to be is also extremely challenging.

For its part, UNRWA says that it is struggling to maintain its services in Gaza, but it has opened all but two of its food distribution centres there, as well as all but five of its 18 health centres.  The Relief and Works Agency has also opened seven shelters around the Gaza Strip, which are currently housing some 4,000 people affected by the recent fighting.  UNRWA emphasizes the need for humanitarian breathing space.  It calls upon Israel to allow industrial quantities of wheat to pass through the conveyor belt at the Karni crossing.  It also calls for more fuel to get into Gaza; at present, the Agency says, 1 million people in Gaza are without electricity, while a quarter of a million people lack fresh water.

**Security Council

The Security Council had its first meeting of the year on Saturday night, when it held consultations, under France’s presidency, on the situation in the Middle East.  The consultations ended without agreement on a statement on Gaza, but the Council President, Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert of France, said that there had been a “convergence of views” on the need for “an immediate, permanent and fully respected ceasefire”.  The Council expects to hold consultations tomorrow morning on its programme of work for January.


What we’ll do while we are waiting for Mr. Holmes — and I see that we already have our friends in Gaza and everything is set on that side… Thank you, John, for being with us.  So we’ll have you in a second.  Shall I answer your questions quickly?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I was wondering if you can give us any readout of the outcome of Mr. Ban Ki-moon’s conversations with the Israeli side and whether he heard from them of any plan to end the ground operations they are holding any time soon in response to his appeals and condemnation of that ground attack?

Spokesperson:  Well, he spoke to Mr. Olmert and actually, in his statement, he mentioned exactly what was said with Mr. Olmert.  There was no engagement on the part of the Israeli parties for ending the conflict, in spite of the Secretary-General’s insistence.  And what we have so far is the fact that they said that they are going to try to strengthen the mechanism for humanitarian assistance.

Question:  What is expected today in a meeting with the Foreign Ministers and what is the hopeful outcome from this?

Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t know whether we can talk about an outcome before the actual meeting takes place.  Actually, I would ask you to wait and you’ll be able to ask questions later today.

Let me first give the floor to John Holmes, who is with us.  I’ll answer your questions and Enrique will come on afterwards, if you don’t mind, because I don’t want to have our Gaza friends waiting any longer.

[Following the noon guest and General Assembly Spokesman:]


Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President

Unfortunately, this is not a very happy new year start, at all, but good to see you all in any case and let’s hope that the year gets better.

I know you are all focused on Gaza.  However, let me say for the record that today, the President of the General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto, opened the inaugural meeting of the Commission of Experts of the President on reforms of the international monitoring and financial system.  The meeting, as you know, is the group of experts — the 18 experts that have been named by the President of the General Assembly — that are meeting under the coordination of Professor Joseph Stiglitz for two days in the Desmond Tutu Center here in Manhattan.

I just wanted to say that for the record.  I am available for you if you have any particular questions.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I know that when the President of the General Assembly came Saturday to the Council and made a statement at the stakeout and he went inside — some people asked — and I wanted to know — can you give sort of a readout?  Did he go into the consultation room, had he been invited, does he think that there is any need to be invited?  What are the sort of protocols for the head of the GA visiting the Security Council?  What are his thoughts after his visit in terms of the Security Council’s work that night and going forward?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, first of all, the President of the General Assembly and the General Assembly itself, it’s getting into a major effort of reorganization of… restructuring of some of the bodies.  And you know he has been looking into the reform of the Security Council.  This is one of the issues that member countries want to do during this year, and this was a very good example on how very often — and in this practical occasion, as the President of the General Assembly mentioned — the Security Council was not responding to the expectations of many Member States and the international community at large.  And he wanted to see for himself what was going on, what was the situation.  He went there, he had a very friendly talk with all the different ambassadors who were available, but, of course, he is very respectful of the work of the Security Council and he is not going to intervene in the Security Council as such.  The Security Council is working on its own, with Member States and the members of the Security Council currently there.

But he went there to talk with ambassadors and after that he made himself available to the Member States if they consider that he should take any action at the General Assembly.

Question:  Did anybody?  Did anybody want his advice, his support, whatever?

Spokesperson:  Let’s be very clear:  the bottom line is that this Organization, and the Security Council in particular, was created to prevent conflicts and war, not to block peace.  And this is the bottom line of the President of the General Assembly.  Many people are disappointed — and we have seen statements not only from Member States, but in the Secretariat, in the field, the international community — many people are very disappointed that there is no agreement at the Security Council.  And if there is no agreement in the Security Council on this particular issue, there are many Member States who are thinking that there are other possibilities that could be explored, among others, going to the General Assembly.  And this is basically what is going on right now.  It is not a secret.  As you know, Member States have expressed this openly, and the President of the General Assembly has made himself available [inaudible] if the Member States want this to be taken up at a different level.  Right now, as you know, the Security Council is still meeting on this issue, we have the Foreign Ministers here, coming for the special session of the Security Council, and everybody still hopes that something is done, basically, to stop any more massacres in Gaza.

And this is the bottom line.  As I said, the President of the General Assembly is talking to different ambassadors and there is a general opinion that the Security Council should not block peace, should help to create peace in the region.

Question:  [inaudible] in this regard, so the General Assembly… We can expect the meeting of the General Assembly on this subject if the Security Council does not provide any solution?

Spokesperson:  As I said, this is an option.  Right now, a decision has not been taken.  This is an option among other options.  There are many diplomatic efforts also going on in the region, trying to get an immediate ceasefire, and some Member States, some ambassadors are thinking of that possibility.  But I still think that — and also the President of the General Assembly believes that — there is activity going on in the Security Council.  We would hope that as soon as possible — also the Secretary-General has underlined that we have hoped that the Security Council gets an agreement.

Question:  He said on Saturday evening that he thought the Security Council was dysfunctional.  Is it fair to say that this is a reference to the US blocking the passage of the presidential statement on Saturday, based on wanting to have the Hamas rocket fire and attacks… things like that.  What was he referring to when he said it was dysfunctional?

Spokesperson:  The President of the General Assembly, as you know very well, has said since day one, since he arrived here, that one of the problems that we have in the Organization is that some instances, including the Security Council, are not working properly.  And this crisis is a very clear example why the Security Council is not making, after more than one week, any clear decision on this tragedy.  Meanwhile, people are still dying in the field in Gaza.  Therefore, the President of the General Assembly believes certainly that there is huge room for improvement in the work of the Security Council, and he is discussing with the Member States, and not only in this particular case, but in general.

Question:  Is his Special Adviser, Richard Falk, going to come to the UN in New York?

Spokesman:  He is going to come to New York as soon as possible.  This week.

If there are no more questions, Michèle, do you want to…?

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For information media • not an official record