HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NOON BRIEFING
BY MICHELE MONTAS
SPOKESPERSON FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
GAZA CRISIS IS UNDERMINING MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS
- The Security Council is holding a meeting today on the Middle East.
- Briefing this morning, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe expressed continued UN concern about what he termed the “extremely fragile” humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip while strongly urging Israel to allow “regular and unimpeded” delivery of fuel and basic necessities to the area.
- Pascoe emphasized the UN’s support for the humanitarian needs of the population there. He also said, “Israel must reconsider and cease its policy of pressuring the civilian population of Gaza for the unacceptable actions of militants. Collective penalties … are prohibited under international law.”
- He acknowledged Israel’s security concerns and condemned without reserve the “unacceptable” escalation of rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza. At the same time, he also reminded Israel of its obligations under international humanitarian law to avoid endangering civilians in its military actions.
- Pascoe also voiced concerns about the effect of the current upsurge in violence on the peace process at the outset of what he said should be a year of hope and opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians. “The events of the past week have also underlined the ever-present potential for the Annapolis process to be undermined by the deterioration of the situation and on the ground, and in particular the continuing crisis in Gaza,” Pascoe said.
- In describing the UN’s continuing actions to help alleviate suffering by civilians on the ground, Pascoe said: “The work being performed by UN agencies, as well as NGOs, in Gaza is one of the few things that stand between the current crisis conditions and an even more dramatic deterioration of the situation.”
- The Security Council later announced that it would hold closed consultations this afternoon on the situation in the Middle East, immediately following the adjournment of today’s open meeting.
- In related news, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, before leaving for Geneva yesterday, called both Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit to share his concerns over developments in Gaza and Southern Israel.
- Asked why the Secretary-General had not called the Palestinians, the Spokeswoman said that he has been in regular contact with them. The phone calls he made on Monday, she added, were intended to help end the closures in Gaza and were therefore made to the two countries that control the crossings to Gaza.
- Asked about the call to Prime Minister Olmert, Montas said that the Secretary-General had pleaded to stop the isolation of the population of Gaza, in particular the cutting off of supplies and the closure of the crossings. She added that there were many officials who had intervened prior to the decision to have a temporary easing at the crossing points.
- Asked whether Arab representatives had asked the Secretary-General to issue a report on the matter, the Spokeswoman said she was not aware of such a request. She noted that the Arab representatives had asked for a meeting with the Secretary-General on Monday, but that he was unable to schedule one because of the need to make the two phone calls prior to his departure from New York.
U.N. LAUNCHES ITS LARGEST HUMANITARIAN APPEAL FOR PALESTINIANS
- The United Nations and its partners launched their largest-ever humanitarian appeal for Palestinians, as the population of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is forced into greater dependency on humanitarian aid in 2008.
- At $462 million, this is now the third biggest UN appeal in the world, after Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
- Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) today expressed concern over the health situation there.
- WHO says it is particularly worried by frequent electricity cuts and limited power, which affect hospital generators, impede the functioning of emergency rooms, and disrupt the refrigeration of perishable vaccines. The agency also notes that its shipments of essential medicines into Gaza have recently been delayed at the border.
- WHO also calls for patients to be given access to health care outside Gaza.
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