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14 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.

All right.  Good afternoon, and thank you for your patience. 

**Secretary-General — Gaza and Israel

I have a statement on the situation in Gaza and Israel.  The Secretary-General appeals to all parties to immediately cease the fighting in Gaza and Israel.

The ongoing military escalation has caused great suffering and destruction.  It has claimed scores of civilian lives, including, tragically, many children.  The fighting has the potential to unleash an uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis and to further foster extremism, not only in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel, but in the region as a whole.

The parties must allow for mediation efforts to intensify with a view to ending the fighting immediately.  The UN is actively involved in such efforts, which are also crucial for delivering much needed humanitarian aid to the affected people in Gaza.

The Secretary-General reiterates that only a sustainable political solution will lead to lasting peace.  He reiterates his commitment, including through the Middle East Quartet, to supporting Palestinians and Israelis to resolve the conflict on the basis of the relevant UN resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements.

**Middle East — Humanitarian

And, in addition to that statement, I have a humanitarian update from our humanitarian colleagues who report from Gaza, that given limited fuel reserves in the Gaza Strip, there are now daily rolling electrical power cuts of 8-12 hours a day.  Another 230,000 people from Gaza City and Khan Younis have limited access to piped water due to increasing power cuts and damage to the network.

Over 12,000 people have reportedly sought shelter from the fighting, with many situated in schools run by our colleagues at UNWRA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East].  Twenty-nine UNRWA schools in Gaza have been opened as designated emergency shelters for displaced people.  UNRWA and humanitarian partners are providing food, water and non-food items to those people.

As previously mentioned, funding for the humanitarian appeal for the Occupied Palestinian Territory is only 29 per cent funded. 

**Secretary-General’s Travels

And the Secretary-General has just concluded his visit to Moscow.   

Earlier today, he met Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin for a discussion on a wide range of issues, including climate and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.   

As you will have seen in a readout we issued yesterday, the Secretary-General also had a virtual meeting with President Vladimir Putin.  They discussed a number of international and regional peace, security and humanitarian issues and the need to resolve conflicts through political dialogue, mutual respect and understanding.

They also talked about the importance of renewed commitment to multilateralism, solidarity and cooperation for the international community to address the unprecedented global challenges in the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.

The Secretary-General expressed the interest of the UN to deepen its cooperation with the Russian Federation in the three pillars of the Organization’s work — peace and security, sustainable development, including climate change and biodiversity, and human rights.

Yesterday afternoon… sorry, and I just want to flag that this morning, the Secretary-General also had a meeting with the Speaker of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly, Valentina Matviyenko.  They discussed climate issues, gender and other topics.

And yesterday, the Secretary-General received a honorary degree from [Moscow State Institute of International Relations], and all of that information was shared with you. 

**Senior Personnel Appointment

Also, I just want to flag and put into the record our senior personnel announcement, which we put out Wednesday afternoon, and that is that the Secretary-General appointed Martin Griffiths of the United Kingdom as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. 

He will succeed, as you know, Mark Lowcock, to whom the Secretary-General is deeply grateful for his dedicated service to the UN, as well as his commitment in mobilizing assistance and resources to protect and alleviate the conditions of many people impacted by humanitarian crises. 

Also, just to note, that Mr. Griffiths, who as you know is currently the Special Envoy for Yemen, he will continue to serve in that position, until a transition plan has been announced.

**Myanmar

And from Myanmar, our colleagues on the ground tell us that, more than 100 days on from the military takeover, they remain very concerned over the military’s restrictive policies and practices towards media outlets.

The UN team urges the military to release all people detained arbitrarily, including the journalists that have been jailed.

To date, the military has revoked the operating licenses of eight media outlets, while at least 84 journalists have been arrested.  Of those, at least 48 journalists remain in detention as of today.  A journalist was found guilty and jailed for three years earlier this week.

Our colleagues say that the freedoms of expression and the press are fundamental human rights underpinning all civil liberties and must be protected. 

**Rohingya

And, staying on a related topic, next Tuesday, 18 May, the 2021 Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis will be launched, and that will be hosted by the Government of Bangladesh, along with the UN refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration.

That plan will target nearly 1.4 million people, and that is Rohingya refugees themselves, and, of course, the host communities.  This year, it brings together the efforts of the Government of Bangladesh and 134 UN agencies and NGO partners. 

As you will recall, some 740,000 Rohingya fled from violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State in 2017. 

UNHCR says that, with the refugee crisis in its fourth year, Bangladesh needs robust and sustained international support to ensure the safety and well-being of stateless Rohingya refugees.  This must not become a forgotten crisis. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded vulnerabilities for both refugees and communities hosting them.  We will have more on that online.

**COVAX

And a few COVID, COVAX, rather, updates. 

Bosnia and Herzegovina received this week three additional shipments of COVAX-backed Pfizer vaccines, which amounts to a little over 150,000 doses.  Those complement other vaccines the country is receiving from separate agreements.  The UN team is also delivering over 11 million pieces of life-saving medical equipment, testing kits and necessary supplies. 

And Georgia also received a second shipment of over 43,000 vaccines, about half of the total expected through COVAX.  Authorities there expect to vaccinate 60 per cent of the 3.7 million people by the end of the year.  UN entities also procured and delivered essential supplies including hospital equipment, PPE, test kits, lab consumables, computers and vital medical supplies. 

And in Egypt, the COVAX facility delivered an additional 1.7 million doses of the vaccine yesterday, an addition to the over 850,000 received in March. 

Finally, Costa Rica yesterday received its second batch of vaccines, that was nearly 90,000 doses. 

**India — COVID-19

And an updated from India.  Our UN team there continues to provide equipment and supplies for the COVID-pandemic response. 

This includes 72 oxygen generating plants; 13,000 [oxygen] concentrators; and 400,000 COVID-19 testing kits and 85 testing machines have been installed in labs across the country. 

The UN team is also supporting migrants and vulnerable groups by setting up helplines to provide psychosocial support and information on social welfare and livelihood opportunities. 

Our team is also helping authorities to care for children who have lost both parents due to the pandemic. 

The Resident Coordinator, Renata Dessallien, said today that the COVID-19 wave has caused unfathomable suffering and loss for the people of India.  She noted that the Indian people have responded with extraordinary acts of altruism, selflessness, courage, and ingenuity, as well as mutual help.  The Resident Coordinator stressed that the UN team in India stands with the people and the Government. 

**International Days

And a few international days to flag.  Tomorrow is International Day of Families, and the theme this year is “Families and New Technologies”. 

Sunday is International Day of Living Together in Peace.  It is an important day.  The Day aims to uphold the desire to live and act together, united in differences and diversity, in order to build a sustainable world of peace, solidarity and harmony. 

And Sunday is also International Day of Light.  The Day celebrates the role light plays in science, culture and art, education, and sustainable development, and in fields as diverse as medicine, communications, and energy. 

**Questions and Answers

Speaking of energy, Nabil…  yeah, speaking…  no, I’ll…  go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  So, I see that the Secretary‑General talks about Gaza and Israel in his statements, yesterday and today.  Does he, or does this mean that he sees that the escalation is separate from what’s happening in the West Bank but not also the West Bank, also cities and towns in Israel?

Spokesman:  No, I think that we’re focused on Gaza because that’s where we’ve seen, obviously, the most dramatic increase in the conflict.  We’re also very much concerned about the situation in the West Bank.  We’ve seen casualties, both from Israelis and Palestinians. 

We are, despite, I would say, the security, as much as the security situation allows, we are providing assistance as required…  as required to Palestinian families in the West Bank, but it’s…  the continued fighting is, hampers our operation and is, obviously, of concern. 

And we’re, obviously, also very much concerned about the violence we’ve seen between different communities in Israel, and we would appeal for calm on that front.

Question:  And the follow‑up also, the Israeli Prime Minister [inaudible] to the use of administrative detention in Lod city.  Do you have a position on this measure, which is usually…  it means detention without trial.  What’s your position on that?

Spokesman:  Look, I, there is a, there is, obviously, a tense security situation.  We, as a matter, I’m not going to get into the weeds of the, of what is going on directly in Israel, but obviously, we, as a matter of principle, stand for most fairness and justice, and people, if they’re detained that they need to face, face whatever charges.

Ms. Saloomey, please.

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  I’m struck by the fact that it was just one week ago that the Security Council held this meeting on multilateralism and all members of the Council came out and expressed their support for it, and yet we’ve seen in the last week Council members blocking action that other Council members support, whether it’s Myanmar, Palestine or what have you. 

Is the Secretary‑General worried that the inconsistencies of what these permanent members of the Council say and do undermines the United Nations to the core?  What’s the point of multilateralism if one country can block an issue of concern for all others?

Spokesman:  Look, I mean, I think the Secretary‑General would be the first one to tell you — and he has said it — that he is concerned about the state of multilateralism as we’ve seen it during the pandemic and as we’ve seen it in other aspects.  We would like to see Member States put to action the ideals that we all have to live up to within this Organization.

The more unified the Security Council is, the stronger its voice and the stronger its impact.

Let’s go to Alan, then we’ll go to the screen for a bit, and then we’ll come back in the room.

Question:  Sorry.  A source in Turkey Foreign Ministry told RIA Novosti recently that members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation advocate for establishing so‑called mechanism of protection for Palestinians, which would imply sending an international military force to the region.  Your position on such statements and initiatives?

Spokesman:  I’m not going to comment on whatever is leaked from an organization that I don’t speak for.  Our aim right now is for a de‑escalation, an immediate cessation of hostilities.  We need to get humanitarian aid to those who need it, and we need to get a political process back on track.

Question:  I’ll come back to you in a second.  Let’s go to James Reinl and then Abdelhamid and then Joe Klein. 

Spokesman:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I’ve got two questions.  First one’s going to be on the meeting with Putin and then next one on COVID.  But first on Putin, Mr. Guterres flew all the way to Moscow and had a virtual meeting with Mr. Putin.  What’s that about?  It sounds like a bit of a snub. 

And did…  is Mr. Guterres now, does he feel that he has the support of the Russian leader in his quest for a second term?

Spokesman:  On your second part of your first question, it’s not for me to speak for candidate Guterres.  It’s not for me, it’s not any question for me to answer.

On your first part, no, we don’t take it as a snub.  The meeting, we’ve had a number of meetings with the Foreign Minister, Mr. Lavrov.  That’s the way our Russian hosts organized the meeting, I think, as it’s been done in other occasions.  I think we were very pleased to have, the Secretary‑General was very pleased to have quite a long conversation with President Putin.

Question:  Thanks so much.  And on COVID, yesterday, President Joe Biden and the CDC said, in the US, if you’ve been double‑vaccinated and had those two weeks, you can be inside a building and you don’t have to wear your face mask.  Is that now the rule at UN Headquarters?  Can we de‑mask?

Spokesman:  No, that’s not yet the rule at UN Headquarters.  We, obviously, like everybody who lives in the US, I think we’re happy to hear the message from the White House.

We’re, obviously, now in contact with our Host City, the Host State, because there are, given the federal nature of the Government in this country, there are different regulations for the states, for the city.  We’re all looking at that, but obviously, it’s a very positive signal for everyone here.

Mr. Klein and then Abdelhamid and then Mr. Toby.

Question:  Yes.  Hi, Stéphane, and hope you’re feeling better.  I have…

Spokesman:  Thank you.

Question:  …two questions.  I have two questions, which I hope will not give you [inaudible] a relapse.

Spokesman:  I mean, I’m already sitting down, so the next step is lying down so…  but let’s go ahead.

Question:  Okay.  First question, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic jihad leaders have said and expressed their gratitude to Iran for supplying much of the weaponry, funds and other support.  And the senior official of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of Iran was quoted just very recently as saying:  “We have a religious duty to act against Israel and annihilate it.”  So, we have the Palestinian groups in Gaza using weaponry from Iran and a senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps official saying that Iran’s policy is essentially to annihilate Israel. 

I’d like you to comment on behalf of the Secretary‑General on that, and then I have another question.

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, on the statements about annihilation, we stand clearly in condemnation of any sorts of statements to that effect, and we have done so in the past, and we’ll continue to do so.

I have no particular information on weapons, where they come from.  What is clear for us is that every country, whether it is in the region and beyond, should use its influence on the parties to bring about peace, to bring about a cessation of hostilities, to bring about a de‑escalation and to help calm the situation. 

Your second question.

Question:  Yeah, my second question is notes in the Secretary‑General’s vision statement, you’ve said on several occasions that the Secretary‑General keeps his re‑election campaign entirely separate from his official duties as the Secretary‑General.  Do you know who helped the Secretary‑General prepare, if anyone, his — I think it was 17‑page — vision statement?  Was it anybody on the Secretariat’s staff?

Spokesman:  My understanding is all of that work has been done through the Portuguese Mission.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  And, obviously, by him.  It’s his vision. 

Okay.  Abdelhamid and then Toby.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I was listening to the statement issued by the Secretary‑General, and I found it, first, inaccurate and unbalanced.  And let me just quote what the Israeli army said.  It’s a statement from the Israeli army.  It said that 160 fighting jets have conducted, had fired 450 missile, 450 missiles against 150 targets in 40 minutes, and not one word mentioned about the disproportionate use of force.  Why is that?  Why the word “disproportionate use of force” these reports was missing from the statement?  The statement exactly equalize between both sides, exactly, word for word, drafted statement to equalise between both parties.  Why is that?  And I have a second question.

Spokesman:  We have been very clear on a number of points.  One is for Israel to use restraint and to calibrate the use of force in its security operations.  We have also condemned the use of rockets firing indiscriminately into civilian areas by militant groups, whether Hamas or others.

What we want to see is an end to the civilian suffering.  We want to see an end to the destruction that we are seeing now, and that is the aim of what we say publicly, and it is the aim of our diplomatic activity. 

Your second question.

Question:  Just as a follow‑up to what you just said, the word “condemned” was used only once against Palestinians, but when a residential tower was destroyed to the ground, it was not used, the word “condemned”.

But my second question, as of today, 119 Palestinian killed, including 31 children, 31 children — I repeat that, 31 children — and 19 women.  Do these victims…  the 31 children and 19 women, were the…  a statement that condemned — they used the word “condemn” — of those who use excessive force to kill these children and women?

Spokesman:  We have consistently spoken out and condemned the death of all civilians.

Okay.  Toby.

Correspondent:  It’s frustrating.

Spokesman:  Toby.

Question:  Thanks.  Thanks, Steph.  First question is, what does the Secretary‑General expect from the Security Council meeting on the situation in Israel and Palestine that’s happening this weekend?  It’s a Sunday meeting.  I think the last time we had a Sunday meeting was probably North Korea stuff in 2017, but what does he expect?  And is anyone from the Secretariat briefing on Sunday?

Spokesman:  Yes, there will be a Secretariat briefer.  We’re working out those details as we speak. 

What we would like to see is a, like I’ve said before, is a strong, unified voice for de‑escalation, for a cessation of hostilities and a push to get the parties back on track to find a political solution to this conflict that has been going on and on and on.

Question:  Sorry, Steph.  I…  your first statement I didn’t hear.  Is…  so, the details are being worked out on who the briefer is?

Spokesman:  That’s correct.  We should have some more information by the end of the day.

Question:  And then just one other question on…  does Mr. [Tor] Wennesland use these moment…  does he think these are moments are opportunities for renewed action and diplomacy on his part, or is he waiting for this situation to die down before he really approaches the political side of this?  Thank you. 

Spokesman:  Well, I would hate to say that moments when we’re seeing scores of children and civilians die as an opportunity.  But, that being said, he has been actively involved in contacts with all the relevant parties, whether it’s on the ground or his Quartet colleagues, and so the diplomacy is very much at work.

Okay.  We’ll go to Maggie, and then we’ll go back to Nabil.

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Could you tell us specifically what the Secretary‑General’s been doing to get the Quartet meeting convened and who he’s spoken to on the phone?  Has he called Prime Minister Netanyahu or Mahmoud Abbas?  Who’s he speaking to specifically?  Thanks.

Spokesman:  No…  so, go ahead.  I know before, I mean, I spoke to him just before he got on his plane to Moscow.  He’s been having, been in constant contact with Mr., with his Special Coordinator, Mr. Wennesland, who is himself in touch with all the relevant parties.  And the Secretary‑General has had other contacts, but I’m not aware of any direct phone calls he’s had with either the Prime Minister of Israel or the President of the Palestinian Authority.

Question:  Steph, is there a timeline…

Spokesman:  Obviously, the issue…

Question:  …for how soon you’d get the Quartet together?

Spokesman:  No, sorry.  No, there is no timeline that I’m able to share.  And, obviously, he did…  the situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestine Territory was on the agenda of both his conversations with Foreign Minister Lavrov, as well as President Putin.

Okay.  Nabil and then Alan.

Question:  I have three questions.  So, why the Secretary‑General is not planning to brief the Security Council on Sunday?

Spokesman:  I didn’t say he wasn’t.  I just said we’ll, we’re working out the logistics of who will brief on Sunday.

Question:  So, it is possible that he will be the briefer.

Spokesman:  Tons of things are possible.

Question:  Okay.  And also, the safety and security of journalists and media crews in Gaza and the West Bank, because our office, among many others, was destroyed in Gaza, my TV station, and in the West Bank, also, the journalists are subject to attacks and harassments from the Israeli forces.  What’s your message on this?

Spokesman:  Journalists, especially in zones of conflict, do critical work.  They need to be able to do their work free of harassment of any kind, and in no way should they ever be targeted.

Question:  And also, a question about the, southern Lebanon.  There was an incident today.  What’s your update on this?

Spokesman:  Which incident are you referring to?

Question:  On the Blue Line, there was also a Lebanese casualty.  A man was, died because of the shooting from the Israeli side.

Spokesman:  Yeah, we’re aware of that particular incident.  I was just…  I just found out about it as I was slowly walking in here.  We are checking with our colleagues at UNIFIL on that.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay, Alan.

Question:  I have a little follow‑up on the question of Quartet meeting.  Today, the German Foreign Minister official said that it’s expected to be held today, but he didn’t mention on what level.  Do you have anything on this?

Spokesman:  No, I’m not aware of a Quartet meeting being held today.  I checked following your, when you contacted me this morning, with our colleagues in Jerusalem.  They were not aware of an official Quartet meeting.  Obviously, the Quartet envoys are, I mean, let me put it this way.  We are, our Quartet representative, Mr. Wennesland, is speaking to his colleagues, but I’m not aware of an official Quartet meeting at any level.

Okay.  Thank you, all.  See you Monday.  Enjoy the…

Correspondent:  Stéphane, I put my name for second question.

Spokesman:  Okay.  One second, Abdelhamid.  I’ll get to you.  Let me answer Nabil, and then I’ll get to you. 

Question:  Is Mr.  Wennesland planning to visit Gaza?

Spokesman:  I have no…  at this very moment, I doubt it, given that the conflict is still ongoing, but I know he would, if he needs to, he would do so at his earliest possible convenience.

Yes, Abdelhamid.

Question:  Yes.  Two brief questions.  First, why you say the President of Palestinian Authority?  I mean, officially the UN considers Abbas the President of the State of Palestine, and when Riyad Mansour speaks in the Security Council, he has a sign says “State of Palestine”. So, you say Palestinian…

Spokesman:  That was a mis…  that was misspeaking on…  that was just me speaking off the cuff.  I should not be…

Question:  All right.  No problem.

Question:  In 1950, Israel passed a law denying the Palestinian who owned property in the so‑called…  in this…  in Israel to seek regaining their property. 

In 1970, Israel passed another law allowing Jews who have previous…  before 1948 any property in now what is West Bank to seek to try to get back their property.  Isn’t that a flagrant case of apartheid?

Spokesman:  There are a lot of issues that will need to be dealt with politically between the parties so we can have two States, Israel and Palestine, living in peace, side by side.  The issue of property will clearly be one of those issues.

Okay.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Thank you, all.  We will keep you updated as to what happens on Sunday, but my understanding is that the meeting, anyway, will be all virtual, so we have no plans to physically be here.  But we’ll keep you posted on our participation in that meeting.

For information media. Not an official record.