LEBANON: PROPOSED STABILIZATION FORCE SHOULD BE BIGGER THAN CURRENT U.N. MISSION
- The Secretary-General, while in Brussels, spoke to reporters to emphasize the need for concrete action to deal with the crisis in the Middle East and for a cessation of hostilities.
- He spoke about his proposal for a stabilization force in Lebanon, saying in response to questions that he would expect a force that is larger than the 2,000-member UN Interim Force in Lebanon, with a different concept of operations and different capabilities. The Security Council, he said, will have to discuss this and define the specific mandate for such a force.
- In a joint press encounter with European Union High Representative Javier Solana, the Secretary-General emphasized, “The situation is very urgent, and it is imperative that the international community acts to end the fighting.”
- Asked if the Secretary-General had spoken to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, the Spokesman said that, in recent days, the Secretary-General had been in telephone contact with a wide range of officials in the Middle East and elsewhere, including Assad. The Spokesman added that that in his discussions, the Secretary-General had continued to press for a cessation of hostilities and the potential need for a stabilization force on the ground.
- Asked whether the Secretary-General could apply pressure on Assad, the Spokesman said the Secretary-General believes the leaders in the region and elsewhere have a role to play in working with all the various parties to calm the situation.
- The Spokesman added that the Secretary-General is emphasizing the need for calm, the return of the captured Israeli soldiers, an end to rocket firing by Hezbollah, and the halt of aerial bombardment by Israel.
- Asked if the Secretary-General had discussed any strategy with US President Bush, the Spokesman all sides are trying to deal with ways to end this situation, which is taking a terrific toll on civilians in the Middle East. While there was no bilateral meeting between the two, the Secretary-General and Bush were both part of a working luncheon at the G8 Summit, he added in response to a further question.
- Asked what timeframe the Secretary-General had in mind for getting a stabilization force on the ground, the Spokesman noted that the Secretary-General has said as soon as practicable as there is an urgent need for the stabilization force in order to create the space for diplomacy and humanitarian work.
U.N. DELEGATION PROPOSES IDEAS TO RESOLVE MIDDLE EAST CRISIS
- The high-level UN delegation to the Middle East, headed by the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Vijay Nambiar, today met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and other senior Israeli officials. They presented concrete ideas on how to resolve the current crisis and reach an end of hostilities; those ideas were also presented to the Lebanese Government over the past two days.
- The delegation met first with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni. They then met Prime Minister Olmert's Chief-of-Staff, Yoram Turbovitz, and his Diplomatic Adviser, Shalom Turgeman, and the Prime Minister himself joined that meeting for about half an hour.
- After the meeting with the Foreign Minister, Terje Roed-Larsen, one of the members of the UN delegation, told reporters that “we had good intensive and productive talks”. He said the team will continue its dialogue with both Lebanese and Israeli interlocutors, and asserted that the Secretary-General and his team are working very hard on specific ideas to get us out of the current crisis.
- The team is traveling to Gaza this afternoon, where it intends to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
- Asked about the type of work underway by the Secretary-General’s high-level mission to the region, the Spokesman said that the sensitive nature of discussions undertaken by the mission is such that specific details of their proposals cannot be provided.
- He noted that the mission had met the Lebanese Prime Minister and Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, as well as with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
- Asked if Prime Minister Olmert’s reported dismissal of a cessation of hostilities was considered a rejection of the UN’s proposals, the Spokesman said that the high-level mission described the meeting with Olmert as “useful” and the United Nations was continuing with its efforts to obtain a cessation of hostilities.
- Asked if the high-level mission would visit Damascus today or tomorrow, the Spokesman said the mission was expected to visit Syria, possibly sometime in the coming days.
- Asked if the mission would be returning to Lebanon following talks with the Palestinian leadership, the Spokesman said that a return trip may occur, but he added that the mission’s schedule is extremely fluid and subject to rapid change.
- Asked when the high-level mission would brief the Security Council on its activities in the Middle East, the Spokesman said the mission is expected back in New York sometime at the end of the week.
- Asked if Security Council members were appraised of the proposals of the high-level mission, the Spokesman said that Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari had provided some details on the mission’s work at a briefing yesterday.
LEBANON HUMANITARIAN APPEAL TO BE LAUNCHED NEXT WEEK
- The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) says that, while heavy exchanges of fire continue along the Blue Line, all its positions in its area of operation are permanently occupied and maintained by UN troops.
- There were 15 incidents of firing close to UNIFIL positions, the Mission says, and a position close to the village of Marwahin suffered one direct hit from the Israeli side causing material damage, but no injuries.
- On the humanitarian front, the UN Mission continued to cooperate closely with the Lebanese authorities, and they decided to set up a joint coordination centre for humanitarian activities in Tyre in the western sector, and Marjayoun in the eastern sector, to coordinate humanitarian activities. Today, UNIFIL dispatched a convoy with humanitarian aid to the villages of Al Boustan and Alma Ash Shab.
- Meanwhile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has informed us that a four-person humanitarian team is headed to the region – including Lebanon and Damascus – to help coordinate the humanitarian response on the ground.
- The United Nations expect to launch a flash appeal for Lebanon early next week.
- Asked if UNIFIL is in contact with Hezbollah, the Spokesman said that UNIFIL is in constant dialogue with armed elements in southern Lebanon, as well as Israeli and Lebanese authorities.
- Asked if UNIFIL had tried to speak to Hezbollah in order to have them stop firing rockets, the Spokesman noted that UNIFIL have been doing what they can, and that the UN has also been proceeding with efforts at a very high level, from the Secretary-General to the high-level mission.
- Asked if UNIFIL has attempted to intercept Hezbollah activities, the Spokesman noted that UNIFIL has been maintaining its positions, but because of the aerial bombardment, UNIFIL’s movement has been restricted.
- Asked about the work of UNIFIL, the Spokesman said that UNIFIL’s mandate is designed to deal with the need for calm in the areas in southern Lebanon, keeping watch over the Blue Line. The Spokesman said it continues to do this as best it can despite the exchange of fire.
- Asked if UNIFIL was a UN operation mandated under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, the Spokesman said that it was not.
- Asked about the nature of a potential stabilization force, the Spokesman noted that the specific details of the force would be determined by the Security Council. He added that UNIFIL’s mandate expires at the end of the month, and the Council will then have to decide on UNIFIL’s mandate and future.
- Asked if UNIFIL had witnessed the abduction of the two Israeli soldiers, the Spokesman said UNIFIL had not, but had been made aware of the incident as it arose, and that information was shared with the Security Council by the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno.
- Asked if there were plans to evacuate UNIFIL staff, the Spokesman said he was unaware of any such plan, and that UNIFIL plans to continue its activities.
U.N. PLANS FOR STAFF EVACUATIONS FROM LEBANON
- As the situation in Lebanon persists, the safety and security of UN personnel has become an even bigger concern for the Organization, and the UN has initiated contingency planning for evacuating non-essential staff and dependents of staff members.
- So far, all UN staff and their dependents are accounted for, with the exception of one staff member and his spouse. All efforts are being deployed to locate them.
- Two staff members are reported wounded but their lives are not in danger.
- Meanwhile, arrangements are also being made to ensure continuity of UNIFIL's key functions.
- Asked about UN plans to evacuate staff from Lebanon, the Spokesman said that some staff, and a small group of dependents, have already left Beirut. He added that there is a possibility that staff located in the city of Tyre may be evacuated or relocated or evacuated at a later stage. The Spokesman noted that for security reasons, further details were unavailable for now.
- Asked about the number of staff have been evacuated so far and how many more will be evacuated, the Spokesman said that at this stage, 445 UN staff have been evacuated to safer areas in the region. As for further evacuations or relocations, Haq said, the UN will take steps as the situation merits.
- Asked about the wounds received by staff members, the Spokesman said they were not life-threatening injuries.