HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NOON BRIEFING BY STEPHANE DUJARRIC

SPOKESPERSON FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES

FRIDAY, 21 MAY 2021

MIDDLE EAST
Last night, the Secretary-General welcomed the ceasefire that took place in Gaza and Israel, after 11 days of deadly hostilities. He extended his deepest condolences to the victims of the violence and their loved ones.
Mr. Guterres commended Egypt and Qatar for the efforts carried out, in close coordination with the UN, to help restore calm in Gaza and Israel. He called on all sides to observe the ceasefire.

The Secretary-General appealed to the international community to work with the United Nations on developing an integrated, robust package of support for a swift, sustainable reconstruction and recovery that supports the Palestinian people and strengthens their institutions.

He also stressed that Israeli and Palestinian leaders have a responsibility beyond the restoration of calm to start a serious dialogue to address the root causes of the conflict. Gaza is an integral part of the future Palestinian state and no effort should be spared to bring about a real national reconciliation that ends the division.

Today, Mark Lowcock, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, allocated $4.5M from the Central Emergency Response Fund, towards the rising humanitarian needs in Gaza. This is in addition to the $14.1 million, announced earlier this week for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which comes from the central Pooled Funds for the OPT. So that total amount as of today, of money we have disbursed, is $18.6 million.

A three-month inter-agency Flash Appeal for the occupied Palestinian territory is expected next week. Strong financial support is crucial to meet needs especially in Gaza, and also the West Bank. It is also critical that the Occupied Palestinian Territory Humanitarian Fund is replenished. This is a flexible tool to quickly respond to urgent needs.

Today, 13 humanitarian trucks with food, COVID-19 vaccines, medical disposables, and drugs, including emergency medicines and first aid kits, for multiple UN Agencies and NGO partners, crossed into Gaza following the partial reopening of the Kerem Shalom Crossing.

The Erez crossing was also opened temporarily for senior humanitarian officials. Two of our most senior officials, Philippe Lazzarini, the Commissioner-General for UNRWA, and Lynn Hastings, the Head of the humanitarian operations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Both traveled to Gaza this morning. Both Mr. Lazzarini and Ms. Hastings have been spending some time not only visiting with Gazans and examining what has happened. But they also thanked all the UN colleagues who have worked hard to help traumatized civilians under difficult and dangerous circumstances.

And, following the ceasefire announcement, the number of people seeking protection in UNRWA schools has now decreased to less than 1,000. The peak was about 66,000.

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Questions and Answers

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Question:  Steph, I noticed that the Secretary‑General was one of many speakers to call for reviving negotiations through the Middle East Quartet for a two‑State solution in the Middle East, and I also noticed that the US Ambassador to the UN said that the US would work with the international community for a lasting peace, but she didn’t mention the Quartet.  So, I’m wondering if you’ve had any indication from the United States if they’re willing to engage in that forum.

Spokesman:  We continue to push to engage in that forum.  Obviously, there are four parts to a Quartet.  We represent one leg of that Quartet.  Others have expressed support.  We continue to be in touch with the Quartet envoys, and we do hope to be able to engage in that framework.

Question:  So nothing yet from them…

Spokesman:  Nothing to announce, no.

Question:  Can I just follow‑up…?

Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  Also, you saw so much diplomacy happening here in the last week, and yesterday you mentioned it when you came in, culminating with the ceasefire agreement in the middle of this in‑person General Assembly meeting.  Can you just give us some colour, maybe, in terms of the mood in the past week and the level of engagement and how…  I don’t…  just what it felt like being behind the scenes here?

Spokesman:  Look, I think you were all as behind the scenes as I was in a sense.  I think there was certainly a buzz in the building yesterday, and I think the fact that we had both General Assembly meeting on the Middle East, we had a large number of Foreign Ministers who came, held bilaterals with the Secretary‑General.  In parallel, we had these discussions going on in Doha.  We had phone calls going on all over the world.  Everything seemed to come together in a positive way.

It also, I think, reinforces the UN in New York as a meeting platform, right, where these conversations that are both public and private can take place.

Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Today, there were clashes in Jerusalem between Israeli police and Palestinians celebrating the ceasefire and worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.  The largest Islamic Muslim organization in the United States has called for condemnation.  What is the Secretary‑General’s reaction to these clashes less than 24 hours after a ceasefire?

Spokesman:  I mean, we’re, obviously, very concerned about the continuing tensions that we’ve seen today in occupied East Jerusalem, particularly in and around the Old City.  It’s very important that, I think, everyone honour the sanctity of the Holy Sites in the Old City, refrain from any provocation that could escalate tensions.

As you mentioned, this comes just a few hours after the ceasefire.  So, it’s important for everyone to show restraint and that the status quo at the Holy Sites must be respected.

And I think…  in these situations, I think both political leaders, religious leaders have a responsibility to speak out against anyone who disrupts peace, and we should all stand firmly against incitement and violence, especially in such a tense environment.

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Question:  Just a bit of a follow‑up to Kristen’s question about the Quartet, does the Secretary‑General view the Quartet as sort of the best avenue to try and revive these talks?

Spokesman:  Look, I think there are a lot of avenues.  There are a lot of different tools.  I don’t want to…  I’m not a ranking person.  There are other…  there are different formats.  The Quartet, I think, is a critical entity in that it brings together these four important parties who have been involved in the process for a long time.  It represents, in a sense, the large part of the international community.  It has served…  I think it has served a positive purpose in the past, and it can continue to do that.

Question:  And the Russian Foreign Minister was, last week, pushing for a ministerial meeting of the Quartet.  Are there any dates under discussion?

Spokesman:  Not that…  I mean, I’m not aware…  I’m not in a position to confirm any dates.  Mr. Barada?

Question:  And just one…  One more quick one?

Spokesman:  Go…  yeah.

Question:  It’s Friday.  One more quick one.  The US Ambassador, yesterday, in her statement, made a point of saying any aid that is given to help Gaza should go to the Palestinian people and not Hamas.  Could you just sort of remind us of the UN’s involvement, I guess, with Hamas and how they ensure that aid finds the right people?

Spokesman:  Well, our aid is distributed by the UN entities who are working directly on the ground.  Our main…  our interlocutor, for anything official, is, obviously, the Palestinian Authority, but we distribute aid, for the most part, directly.  And I think what’s important to note is that all the aid that goes out…  the monies and aid that goes out through the UN is clearly tracked and audited throughout the process.

Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have a couple of questions, as well, and one of the questions Edie took it from me, as always.

Okay.  In the past, Stéphane, in the Israeli attack on Gaza in 2008‑2009, the US did…  sorry.  The UN did an internal investigation of attacks on new UNRWA schools.  Similar happened in 2014 when the UN also conducted an internal investigation of the damage that [was] endured by new UNRWA schools.  Is the UN doing similar investigation of the damage that could be inflicted on UN properties and UN schools this time?

Spokesman:  I mean, obviously, now that the dust has settled, as I told you, our senior officials are on the ground in…  [cell phone interruption]

Correspondent:  Sorry.

Spokesman:  It’s okay.  Now that the dust has settled, as I mentioned, our…  two of our senior‑most officials in the region are on the ground.  We’re, obviously, looking at what has happened, what has been…  what is damaged.  When there is anything more official to share, and if there is, I will flag that to you.

You had a second question?

Question:  Yes, I do.  During the Israeli aggression in Gaza, which lasted for 11 days, 30 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank.  These 30 Palestinian killed had not been mentioned in any statement, or there was no separate focus on those civilians killed in the West Bank, including a young woman in Hebron.  Why is that?

Spokesman:  I think we did…  first of all, I think we did refer to events in the West Bank, and I think we were very clear on condemning the loss of life of all civilians.

Question:  And my last question…  The Europeans now are talking about maybe — that’s what they said — dealing directly with Hamas in order to achieve maybe some comprehensive peace.  Does the Secretary‑General share this view?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, we were very clear and we announced, I think, yesterday — I can’t remember what day we are — I think, yesterday morning, I mentioned that Mr. [Tor] Wennesland had been in Doha and had been speaking to Hamas representatives, and that’s part of his job in trying to be part of that group that help settle this…  the cessation of hostilities, the ceasefire.  You need to talk to the people who are involved in the firing if you’re going to get a ceasefire.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Ali, I think I passed you over, Mr. Barada, and then we’ll go to Mr. Sato.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  So, there are a lot of calls now for cooperation with the United Nations to provide aid to the Palestinians and to provide the construction assistance.  Should that happen, as the Secretary‑General believes, through the Security Council?  Is there a need for a product from the Security Council?

And I have a question, if you have any UN‑verified information about how many children were killed on both sides.

Spokesman:  For your last question, I think I would refer you to our human rights colleagues, who may have some updated figures.  I don’t have…  sorry.  I don’t have that right in front of me, but I know our human rights colleagues have produced updates, as I think our humanitarian affairs colleagues have.

On your first question, I think I need to kind of separate the two.  We would always welcome a strong voice from the Security Council to help cement what has been achieved, which is a ceasefire and lay a vision for the road ahead, for renewed political dialogue, leading to a two‑state solution.

On the humanitarian end, the ball is moving.  As you saw, we released today some more funds, have a flash appeal in the middle of next week.  Obviously, our OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) colleagues, UNRWA and all the others will be speaking to donors.  So, that’s part of our ongoing existing mandate.

Question:  Just if you…  if I may follow up, so, there are a lot of civilians who were killed in this conflict, and I wonder whether the SG would call for any kind of accountability, since he was always warning that there should be a respect…  full respect for international humanitarian law.  And I want to ask specifically about that building which was housing our colleagues in AP and Al Jazeera and other media outlets.  It was targeted and whether anything should be done regarding that building.

Spokesman:  When…  I mean, on that building, I think the Secretary‑General expressed his opinion even yesterday, again, in the General Assembly.  Whenever civilians are killed, whenever civilian infrastructure is destroyed, there needs to be accountability.

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Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Good to see you again.  So, my question about Palestine and also Myanmar, which you just mentioned.  So, first of all, as for the ceasefire, even though the ceasefire has just announced, but even in New York, there are some conflict between the Israel supporters and Palestinian supporters last night, and there was some conflict.  And also, there supposed to be some protests in…  scheduled in the…  this weekend.  What can Secretary‑General say about these hostilities still going on between the two parties?

Spokesman:  Well, we’ve seen some reports of demonstrations in New York.  I think, first of all, people have a right to express themselves freely, but it is very important that there be no violence and extremely important that there be no hate speech in any way, shape or form, anything that would just make the situation worse.

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Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Yes, going back to the Israeli‑Palestinian conflict.  Well, we all know this is the oldest actually of the UN, you know? The partition resolutions, all this one.  We are here looking at deja vudeja vudeja vu.

So, my question is, after this, we all happy a ceasefire, but what…  does the Secretary‑General that is looking for his second mandate, does he has…  does he have a plan, something, to change the history of this conflict that we having every three, four, five years?

Spokesman:  If he had a magical rabbit out of his hat, I don’t think he would have waited for the second mandate to pull it out, should he even get it.  I don’t want to prejudge anything.  But I think what’s important — and it’s what the Secretary‑General himself said yesterday — is that we use this opportunity, yet again, to actually address the fundamental political issues that need to be addressed.

You’re right.  We’ve been dealing with this issue for quite some time.  The end goal is laid out in various Security Council resolutions, General Assembly resolutions.

The international community needs to do whatever it can to support the parties in getting to that goal, to support the parties in getting in political discussions.  The international community should do that and avoid any action or speech that would move us away from that goal.

Okay.  Mr. Varma?

Question:  Sorry.  And…  sorry, but…  can I do just a quick…  just a quick follow‑up?

Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  I’m just saying that…  what I was trying to say is, isn’t it time for bold — bold — action by the Secretary‑General of the United Nations?

Spokesman:  At the end of the day, the bold action will have to come from the parties themselves.

That’s fine.  That’s fine.  Have a great weekend.  See you Friday…  see you Monday.  Yeah.

For information media. Not an official record.