Situation in Gaza and Israel – 17 May 2021 Daily Press Briefing – (Excerpts)

17 MAY 2021

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Middle East

Not surprisingly, we will start with the situation in Gaza and in Israel.

Our colleagues on the ground in Gaza have reported continued Israeli air strikes on Gaza, as well as outgoing rocket and mortar fire by Palestinian groups into Israel.

We continue to receive reports of significant displacement of Palestinians, with over 38,000 internally displaced people seeking protection in 48 schools run by UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) across the Gaza Strip.  Over 2,500 people have been made homeless due to the destruction of their homes.

Forty-one education facilities — including schools, two kindergartens, an UNRWA vocational centre, and a higher education facility — have been damaged, according to our people on the ground.

The power supply across Gaza has been reduced to six to eight hours per day, on average, with a number of feeder lines not functioning.  That, in turn, disrupts the provision of health care and other basic services, including water, hygiene and sanitation.

The Humanitarian Coordinator, our colleague, Lynn Hastings, has appealed to the Israeli authorities and Palestinian armed groups to immediately allow the UN and our humanitarian partners to bring in fuel, food, and medical supplies and to deploy humanitarian personnel in Gaza.  All parties must always adhere to international humanitarian and human rights laws, she said.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has started providing emergency assistance for more than 51,000 people in north Gaza in response to rising humanitarian needs.  This is especially strong among families in that area.

However, the closure of crossings into Gaza may soon cause a dearth of commodities, including food, and this is bound to push up food prices.  WFP warns that prices of fresh produce are already on the rise, as farmers are unable to reach their land.

We continue to actively engage all sides towards an immediate cessation of fire between Israelis and Palestinians.

Our Special Coordinator, Tor Wennesland, is working tirelessly with all sides to restore calm.

For his part, the Secretary-General, as you saw in yesterday’s [Security Council] meeting, continues to urge a halt to fighting in his remarks to the VTC (video teleconference) meeting of the Security Council yesterday, saying, “Fighting must stop.  It must stop immediately.  Rockets and mortars on one side and aerial and artillery bombardments on the other must stop.”

He said that the hostilities have already caused unconscionable death, immense suffering and damage to vital infrastructure.  The Secretary-General added that he was appalled by the increasingly large number of Palestinian civilian casualties, including many women and children, from Israeli strikes into Gaza.  He said he also deplores Israeli fatalities from rockets launched from Gaza.


Tomorrow, at 11 a.m., in the Press Briefing Room, there will be a briefing by Ambassador Sofiane Mimouni, the Permanent Representative of Algeria and Chair of the Arab Group for the month of May.  He will be joined by Ambassador Abdou Abarry, Permanent Representative of Niger and Chair of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) for May.  The two will be joined by Ambassador Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the UN.  That will be in this room at 11.


Questions and Answers


Yes, Iftikhar.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  In your opening remarks, you painted a very grim picture of the situation in Gaza, but please tell us, where do the United Nations’ diplomatic efforts to bring about de-escalation stand?

Spokesman:  We are continuing, through our Special Coordinator, to be in touch with all the relevant parties on the ground to try to, A, establish an immediate cessation of hostilities, a ceasefire, and also to be able to have humanitarian aid reach Gaza where it is most needed.

Question:  Any sign of progress?

Spokesman:  Well, I think, sadly, Iftikhar, I think you can answer that question for yourself.  We’re seeing the situation on the ground.

For some reason, I can’t see the room.  So, if there’s a question in the room, take the mic.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Thanks, Steph.  It’s Edie.  A quick follow-up on what Iftikhar just asked, what has the Secretary-General himself been doing?  He said yesterday that the UN was actively engaging all sides.  Is he himself engaged in this process?

Spokesman:  Yes, he has had a number of contacts, but contacts at different levels are being had.  The focus right now is on the work that Mr. Wennesland is doing, but the Secretary-General remains fully engaged in the situation with… as I said, with his contacts at various levels and especially speaking to Mr. Wennesland.

Question:  I have another… my question is about the media group Reporters Without Borders asking the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel’s bombing of buildings housing the Associated Press and other media organizations in Gaza as a possible war crime.  The media watchdog said, in a letter to the court’s chief prosecutor, that the offices of 23 international and local media organizations had been destroyed over the past week.  Does the Secretary-General support such an investigation?  And what is his comment about the destruction of so many media organizations’ offices?

Spokesman:  Look, I’m not going to comment on the ICC… on the call to the ICC.  The Secretary-General was extremely disturbed to see the destruction of the media building.  It is clear that journalists who operate in Gaza need to be able to do so without fear of harassment, of destruction of their offices and so forth.

We don’t have… and I think it would be very… we don’t have any additional information about the incident, but I think it would be very important to elucidate what exactly happened.

Okay.  Again, I don’t see… Sorry.  [cross talk]

Question:  And what about a quick follow-up… a quick follow-up.  I know you were just talking about the building that houses AP and Al Jazeera, but what about Reporters Without Borders saying the offices of 23 international and local organizations have been destroyed?  Shouldn’t that be investigated also?

Spokesman:  I… completely, as well.  I mean, I think nothing should be done to get in the way of journalists doing their work.

All right.

Question:  Steph, can I…

Spokesman:  Yes, go ahead, Toby.

Question:  Can I just follow up on…

Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  Thanks.  Would… does the UN call on Israel to release the evidence that there were legitimate military targets in that building?  Is that something that the UN needs to see from Israel?

Spokesman:  Look, I think clarity should be had into exactly what happened.

Question:  And then, just as long as I have the floor.  [cross talk]


Question:  Stéphane, given the Secretary-General’s been engaged on the Middle East situation and given he said that a unified statement from the Council would be helpful, I’m wondering if you can give us any insight into any conversations he’s had with the United States.  It’s very clear from China and other sources in the Security Council that it’s the US that is resistant to this.  Do you have any insight into what their objections are to the statements that are being proposed and what’s his reaction to that?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  No, nothing in…

Question:  Do you have any reaction to that?  What is he saying to the United States?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Okay.  Nothing to… no insights that I’m able to share with you at this point.  I would restate the need for a very strong and unified voice from the Security Council, which we think would carry weight.

Okay.  Anybody else in the room?  And then we’ll go to the chat.

Question:  I’ve got one more on… can you…

Spokesman:  Yeah.  Go ahead, Toby.

Question:  Can you hear me, Steph?  The US National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, has asked… has said the US is doing quiet diplomacy, which does not sound like that’s consistent with getting a unified voice out of the Security Council on this matter.  Does the UN have a comment on that strategic difference?

Spokesman:  No, I… listen, it’s not for me to comment on the strategic… on the choices that Member States make and how they engage in diplomacy.

Betul, and then we’ll go to Abdelhamid.

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Perfectly.

Question:  Hi.  Thank you.  Steph, there’s been also calls to set up an international protection mechanism for the Palestinian civilians, given the fact that there is no action from the Security Council following three meetings, and there is no de-escalation on the ground between the parties despite the Secretary-General’s calls to end the fighting immediately.  Is that something the Secretary-General would support, this international protection mechanism?

Spokesman:  Well, our focus right now is on getting an immediate cessation of hostilities, [delivery] of any humanitarian aid and, obviously, trying to get a political process back on track.  And I think, as the Secretary-General said in his remarks, the longer this conflict goes on, the longer this cycle goes on, the more difficult it is to get to where we want to be, which is a two-State solution.  Everything should be done to protect civilians, Palestinian civilians that are under… in Gaza and all civilians.  But it is also… in terms of any mechanism, I think that’s something that we’d have to see some sort of proposal from Member States.

Question:  Is that something he would support, because… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I think… We’d have to see… there are all sorts of meeting reports.  I think we’d have to see what exactly is being proposed.


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have two questions on the speeches given by both the Secretary-General and his Special Envoy, Mr. Wennesland.  Mr. Wennesland said, “in response to Hamas firing rockets,” so… “Israel start bombardment”.  So, he gave the… he was apologetic for Israel.  He gave excuse for Israel, when he knows and you know and everyone knows it wasn’t like that; it started in the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.  That’s the whole episode started.  Why he has to say, “in response to Hamas firing rockets, Israel started bombardment”?  That means there is a reason for its right to destroy Gaza?  Right?  My…

Spokesman:  I… you can do the analysis of his… [cross talk]

Question:  It’s not analysis…

Spokesman:  No, no, Abdelhamid, let me finish.  You’re free to do the analysis.  He reported on a certain amount of time.  I mean, I think we can all spend a long time about who started what and when.  For us, we’re trying to be looking in the immediate… what the immediate needs, and that is a halt to the aerial bombardment and to the artillery into Gaza, a halt of the rockets and the mortars coming out of Gaza.

And your second question?

Question:  I am just… again, I don’t want you to answer, but I’m just questioning the sequence of events, which it didn’t start by firing on.

My second question about the speech of the Secretary-General, he kept calling on both parties, both parties are calling in them.  So, he put it like on equal footing, both, a very strong power for a State, a nuclear State like Israel, with air force, with airports, with so much firepower, equal with those militias who are firing primitive rockets.  When he calls on both sides, that means they are on equal footing.  That’s my… again my question.  Why he doesn’t…

Spokesman:  I… again, I think what “both sides” implies is that, on one hand, we are seeing aerial bombardment and artillery from Israel.  On the other hand, we’re seeing groups like Hamas and others fire rockets and mortars into Israel.  So, it’s not a question of equal… the question that two… there are two sides that are firing at each other, and that’s what the sentence is about.

Question:  So, is killing two children equal to killing 51 children, Stéphane?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I’m not…  Abdelhamid, I’m not going to get into a distressing and morbid body count.  The child of one… the life of one child is the life of one child.

Correspondent:  I do agree with you.

Spokesman:  And each child has a right to live in peace and security, no matter where that child is born.


For information media. Not an official record.

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