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UNITED NATIONS
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · Geneva


PB/01/08/21
21 August 2001

Geneva Press Briefing


REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE



Jamel Ben Yahmed, Chief of the Press Unit and Officer-in-Charge of the Information Service at Geneva, briefed journalists about the Security Council's debate on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian issue; the Secretary-General's visit to Norway; the Secretary-General's report on missing Kuwaiti and other nationals; the Secretary-General's statement on the preparatory meeting for an inter-Congolese dialogue; the screening of videotapes for families of three abducted Israeli soldiers at UNOG; and an upcoming press conference.

Security Council's Debate on the Situation in the Middle East

Mr. Ben Yahmed said that the Security Council held yesterday an open debate on the situation in the Middle East region, including the Palestinian question. A number of countries had made statements, among them the Observer of Palestine and the Representative of Israel. The debate was continuing today. A press release containing summaries of the statements was available in the press room. No draft resolution or Presidential statement had so far been officially circulated among the Council members.

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Screening of Videotapes for Families of Three Abducted Israeli Soldiers

Mr. Ben Yahmed recalled that on 8 August, an Israeli delegation, led by Ambassador Yehuda Lancry and including General Dani Arditi and four other Israeli officials, had watched a screening at Headquarters of two videotapes which were filmed by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) a day after the abduction of three Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah in October 2000. The delegation was also shown items found in the vehicles allegedly used in the abduction. It had been agreed that a second screening of the videotapes would be held at a European United Nations office for family members of the three Israeli soldiers, along with other Israeli officials. This screening would take place tomorrow, 22 August, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva at 9 a.m.

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Questions

In response to a question asking for more details, Mr. Ben Yahmed said that what he could say was that it had been decided that a second screening of the videotapes would be held at a European United Nations office for the families of the three Israeli soldiers, along with Israeli representatives. The videotapes would be viewed at the Palais des Nations tomorrow at 9 a.m. The families and the Israeli officials would arrive at the Palais a few minutes before 9 a.m. and the screening would be held on the first floor in room C1 and C108, next to the Council Chamber. He did not think that there would be a statement by the United Nations following the viewing, however, he would check and further advise journalists. He recalled that on 3 August, the Information Service had distributed a statement by the Secretary-General after he received the report of the investigation team, as well as a press briefing on the UN internal investigation which was held by the Under-Secretary-General for Management, Joseph E. Connor. Journalists could get copies of the transcript of the briefing from the Documentation Centre. He would try to advise journalists later today or early tomorrow how long the viewing would take.

A journalist asked if the United Nations accepted accusations of a cover-up concerning the videotapes, to which Mr. Ben Yahmed said that the United Nations did not accept them. The Secretary-General had requested an internal investigation into the facts and a report had been issued, as well as a statement from the Secretary-General. Mr. Connor had said that no evidence had been found of a cover-up by high United Nations officials of the existence and content of visual records of 7 and 8 October, but a proper balance had not been kept between the mission's operational and humanitarian responsibilities. Mr. Connor had stressed that the United Nations had not found any videotape of the actual abduction. The Secretary-General had said that "It is clear that serious errors of judgement were made, in particular, by those who failed to convey information to the Israelis, which would have been helpful in an assessment of the condition of the three abducted soldiers. The Secretary-General regrets this error. ... The report also reveals serious shortcomings in internal communications within the United Nations, and the way procedures for handling sensitive information are applied".

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