|New York, 28 June 2006 - Press Encounter with the Secretary-General at the Security Council stakeout
SG: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. I have been following with great concern the developments in the Middle East and I have been in touch with the leaders, with President [Mahmoud] Abbas, Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert and President [Bashar Al]Assad - really working with everyone to try and calm down the situation. Obviously, we can not condone the use of Katyushas that place Israelis at risk, and the Israeli Government has a responsibility to protect its citizens, but it has to do so with restraint and, of course, it is understandable that they would want to go after those who [had] kidnapped the soldier. But it has to be done in such a way that [the] civilian population are not made to suffer. I spoke to the Prime Minister, who indicated to me that he is exercising maximum restraint, but I think it is important that the two leaders work together to calm the situation.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General. Did you get any assurances from the Israelis that they would pull out, perhaps try a diplomatic initiative?
SG: Well, not directly, but I think the Prime Minister indicated to me that they are exercising maximum restraint. And, of course, he is concerned about the Katyushas, indicating that several Katyushas, four of them went in today. And in my discussions with [President] Abbas – he's working with all the Palestinian factions to bring the violence under control and ensure that these Katyusha attacks do not continue. And I think it is important that we work very actively on this to get it done. But I hope they would also allow time for, what you have described, as diplomatic initiative, or to find a solution to the capture of the soldier. And I hope no action will be taken to harm him and that he will be returned alive.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, aside from the phone calls you've made, you talk about here?what other diplomatic forays are you talking about, or thinking about, in terms of maybe an emissary to the region to try to set up some talks. What is the sort of follow-up for you?
SG: I think all the governments are also very actively engaged, talking to the leaders in the region. I am not the only one involved. At this stage, I do not anticipate a dispatch of an envoy, but I am in touch with others who are also working on the problem to see how, collectively, we can help the situation.
Q: What would you consider the key to the success of diplomatic efforts?
SG: I think the first thing they will have to do, that everyone seems concerned about, is the release of the kidnapped soldier. I think that will really help ease matters and then move on. And on the Palestinian side, they have had very serious discussions amongst themselves as to how they can work together, how they can control the security situation. And from my discussions, [President]Abbas seemed quite hopeful that they have made some progress on these fronts.
Q: [what about] those civilians who are actually the victim of both sides?
SG Now this is why I have raised this issue, that we should really bear in mind the welfare of the civilian population. And under international humanitarian law, even where there are combatants and there is war, you need to be careful not to take any action in any area which is likely to harm civilians. And we need to really respect the interests of the civilians, and respect international humanitarian law.
Q: The Israelis are saying that they don't want to talk with Hamas, even when they have been elected?
SG: Well, they are talking with [President] Abbas. In fact, they just met in Jordan and, of course, President Abbas is the head of the Palestinian Government.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General. If unilateral solutions don't work, do you think the Gaza situation proves that the Israelis need a partner?
SG: We have always maintained that the best solution out of this is through dialogue and agreement between the two parties. It is not an issue that can be resolved unilaterally.
Q: Mr. Secretary, your reaction to the Israeli jets flying over the Syrian President's house? Do you think that has escalated the situation?
SG: I just saw the report, just before I came down, and if indeed that is correct, then we need to be very careful, not only not to escalate, but not to expand the area of conflict. And, so it is very important that we all take very careful steps to de-escalate and not take any action or any initiative that will expand or escalate the situation.