HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NOON BRIEFING BY STEPHANE DUJARRIC

SPOKESPERSON FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES

TUESDAY, 18 MAY 2021

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MIDDLE EAST
Rosemary DiCarlo, the Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, told a UN forum on the question of Palestine this morning that the recent fighting has now claimed more than two hundred civilian lives, including children. The suffering, damage and destruction are immense, she said.

Under-Secretary-General DiCarlo said the UN has been actively involved in mediation efforts with all sides with a view to ending the violence immediately. She echoed the Secretary-General’s call on the parties to allow for the intensification of mediation efforts, which are also critical for delivering much needed humanitarian aid to the affected people in Gaza. She commended the Member States who have intensified their diplomatic efforts to bring the parties back from the brink.

OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN TERRITORY
On the humanitarian situation, the opening of the Kerem Shalom crossing today has allowed dozens of fuel trucks from UNRWA to enter Gaza. Regrettably, other essential humanitarian cargo was unable to cross.

It is critical that the Erez crossing is also opened for the entry and exit of critical humanitarian staff.
Humanitarian access into and out of Gaza for staff and goods must be sustained and appropriate measures taken to ensure safe movement within Gaza.

Overnight, the U.N. received extremely worrying reports of additional civilian infrastructure being hit in Gaza, including the central COVID-19 testing lab and other health and humanitarian facilities.

In addition, the U.N. continues to receive reports of significant displacement of Palestinians within the Gaza strip. More than 58,000 men, women and children have been displaced, 47,000 of whom are seeking protection in some 58 UNRWA schools across Gaza.

And, as far as the security situation allows, the UN, along with its partners, provide food and non-food items to displaced families, and immediate cash assistance to more than 56,000 people.

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Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  When you say that the Secretary‑General and the UN is actively trying to get both sides to allow the intensification of efforts at mediating a ceasefire, what exactly does intensification mean?

Spokesman:  Intensification means putting more effort into trying to find a way to get a ceasefire, to get a lull in the fighting so we can get more humanitarian goods in.

Question:  So, does that mean that, currently, whatever efforts are going on by the UN are not considered… what should I say… enough or at a minimum level and not serious enough?

Spokesman:  Well, listen, I don’t think… no one’s putting in doubt the seriousness of the discussions.  What… I mean, we can all watch the news.  We see that the fighting… the exchange of fire is continuing.  So, there are a number of Member States who are highly involved in this.  We’re involved in this.  I think we all need to intensify our work so we get to the point where we want to be.

Question:  [Inaudible]?

Spokesman:  You may.

Question:  Thank you so much.  Could you tell us with whom the UN is contacting, whom you are dealing with, whom you’re trying to push further for more mediation?  What countries, which…?

Spokesman:  I mean, Mr. [Tor] Wennesland is in touch with all the relevant parties on the ground.  He’s also talking to his Quartet partners.  We’re talking to other Member States.  The Secretary‑General is also making phone calls and will continue to do that.

Question:  Did he contact the Israelis or Palestinians?

Spokesman:  Sorry?  Mr. Wennesland is in touch with both…?

Question:  No, I’m asking about the SG, if he…?

Spokesman:  The discussions on ground right now are focussed on… are led by Mr. Wennesland in speaking to the parties.  Sorry.  I didn’t think I would have to prompt all of you.  Yeah.

Question:  Just a follow‑up on the humanitarian situation, you said other supplies weren’t allowed in.  Can you give us more detail on what isn’t being allowed in and where that leaves the humanitarian efforts?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I mean, the reason the other trucks… yeah, the reason the other trucks were not allowed in is because of… we were advised by the Israelis, because of security situation.

Question:  [Inaudible]?

Spokesman:  It was… my understanding is it was food, non‑food items, but we got… the fuel trucks are really a critical… the fuel is critical for Gaza.  Betul?  I’ll come back to you, Abdelhamid.

Question:  Steph, just to clarify on the humanitarian situation, does that mean that parties of Israel or Hamas are preventing, or is it because the fighting is going on?  What prevents it?

Spokesman:  We were advised by the Israelis that, because of the security situation, the additional trucks we wanted to go through were not able to go through.  That’s what I can tell you.  I mean, there is, obviously, a continuing of fire, but that’s the reason we were given.  We can’t push our way through, so… sidi rais?

Question:  Sidi rais.  Thank you.  After the ceasefire and once the dust has settled, does the UN have any plans of taking part in reconstructions, or are you going to leave it to others?

Spokesman:  There will be a great need for reconstruction of the infrastructure that was destroyed in Gaza.  The Palestinian people will need the help of the international community, the financial help of the international community.  We will get involved in it as much as we can.  Yes, go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  My colleague just actually asked most of the question I wanted to ask, but you mentioned the international community would be involved in rebuilding Gaza.  Is there any particular country or organization that will be contributing to this, the rebuilding?

Spokesman:  No, what I said is that the Palestinians would need the help of the international community.  I think let’s… sadly, this is not the first time we’re at this situation.  In the past, it has been bilateral donors.  It has also been through multilateral channels, so I don’t expect it to be different, but our focus right now is on stopping the casualties.  Toby?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  What does the Secretary‑General want from the Security Council now?  They’re having a fourth meeting on a ceasefire… or on some kind of statement, and we still have not even a basic statement on the protection of civilians.  I mean, what can he use from them to do his job better?

Spokesman:  What I… I think I answered the same question yesterday, a strong unified voice from the Security Council, for us, we believe, will carry weight in order to see a halt to the fighting.

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Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  So, today, the Secretary of State of the United States said they are trying to work in a ceasefire to try to get to that point.  Is the United States getting more active trying to work here at the Security Council?  As he mentioned, we haven’t seen a cohesive result from the meetings.  Is that something that the Secretary-General… maybe gets a heads‑up from the Secretary of State?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General has been in touch with the US Permanent Representative, but I will leave it to the US to qualify its involvement and its work.  I mean, as you know, the Security Council will be meeting, discussing this in closed consultations.  Let’s see what comes out.  Mario, and then I’ll come back to the room.

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Question:  Thank you again.  Do you know if the Secretary‑General will be addressing the GA on Thursday?

Spokesman:  Yes, he will be addressing the GA, and we’ll share those remarks with you beforehand.

Question:  Yeah.  Are you aware that Egypt has contributed… pledged to contribute half a billion dollars for the reconstruction of Gaza?

Spokesman:  No, I had not seen that, but we, obviously, welcome it.  Okay.

Question:  And this… my question, you still call it fighting; you call on both sides.  Does the SG see what is exactly happening in Gaza?  There is a powerful State with a powerful army bombarding a small area of 100… 344 kilometres, day in and day night from sea, land and air, and civilians are dying by the minute.  Does he see that?  It’s not an equal… two equal parties.

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General is very clear eyed, and he sees exactly what is happening, and that’s why he’s doing all he can, and he’s instructed his Special Coordinator to do all he can to put an immediate stop to this fighting.  And that’s why we’re trying to help as many people as possible.  Toby and then Betul.

Question:  [Inaudible]?

Spokesman:  Did he an… I answered your question?

Correspondent:  [Inaudible].

Spokesman:  Oh, that’s very nice.  Toby?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  A question about the humanitarian situation again.  We’ve got about 50,000 people hiding in or taking shelter in schools.  Is UNRWA… were these facilities designed to do this? Is this a… is this safe, really?  I mean, what does that look like?

Spokesman:  The facilities were not designed to do this, but, sadly, these facilities have done this numerous times in the past.  Right.  It’s place where people can try to find food, can find shelter, but it is… it won’t be safe until we see the fighting stop.  Go ahead.

Question:  I’m sorry.  Did you receive any explanation of the Israeli attacks on these schools, some of the schools?  And second thing is, I know you’ll… you said in the beginning of the pandemic that you take your cue from the city and authorities, and now they’re changing the mask policy.  Do you envisage a change here…?

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Question:  The schools?

Spokesman:  Sorry.  Sorry.  What?  On the schools, our UNRWA colleagues, I know, are doing whatever they can.  We’ll try to get some information from them.  Yes, please, go ahead.

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Question:  Steph, thank you.  One last question on Gaza.  As far as we know, the only centre for COVID testing in Gaza has also been targeted, and many people’s [inaudible] are packed now in schools and they’re seeking shelters in schools.  Is the UN concerned about the number of COVID cases, when you have people staying in the same schools and when the only centre for COVID testing is bombed?

Spokesman:  Of course.  Of course.  We’ve seen a number of medical… health facilities being destroyed.  All of this is happening in a situation where we know in Gaza, the humanitarian situation even before this latest round of fighting was not good, to say the least.  Access to vaccines was very challenging.  So, this only makes things worse.  Okay.

Correspondent:  Stéphane, Stéphane, I have a question.  I put it up on the chat line here, very quick question…

Spokesman:  Go ahead, Joe.  Might as well.

Question:  Very… thank you.  Do you know whether UNRWA has, in the safety of all concerned, checked to make sure that all of the schools are not currently housing any rockets or any tunnels have been built underneath the schools?  And if you don’t know, would you be able to find out?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, you can always reach out to UNRWA.  What I can tell you is that UN facilities should never be used to house military or security activities, and they need to be protected at all times.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.