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Source: Secretary-General
20 May 2004

Secretary-General’s press encounter following Security Council luncheon
19 May 2004
(unofficial transcript)

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, can you comment about the Middle East, about the developing, worsening situation in Rafah?

SG: It is very worrying, and you saw my statement this morning. I have since been in touch with [US] Secretary of State [Colin] Powell and also [US] National Security Adviser Condi Rice, discussing the situation with them and the need for all of us to do whatever we can to bring it under control. I also had a call from Chairman [Yasser] Arafat just before I came down to the Security Council lunch, appealing for assistance from the international community, and pleading with the UN and the international community to do something, and indicating that the civilians are under threat, and that this morning’s attack killed many children and women.

Q: How important is the UN resolution that’s currently before the Security Council? How important is its adoption? What could it do?

SG: I know the Council is going to discuss it this afternoon. But I think the fact that the Council is taking it up and discussing [it] sends a message – a message of international concern. And of course, it would also depend on what the statement, what the Security Council actually says. And I think they are taking it very seriously, and we will have to wait and see the outcome of their discussions.

Q: Sir, if I could, just on one point, in the past, you’ve recognized Israel’s legitimate right to self-defense. Do you reject, in this scenario, that this is being done within their right to self-defense?

SG: I think the statement I issued this morning was very clear as to how I saw Israel’s responsibility – responsibility for the protection of civilians. And I stand by that statement.

Q: I know, we’ve still said its television and we can’t show a piece of paper. I wonder if you could express your concern or outrage over what is happening there?

SG: You mean I can’t show the piece of paper?

Q: Can you explain why you object to what’s happening in Rafah?

SG: I think you have seen the destruction of homes. You have seen civilians caught in this conflict. We are, at the moment, having to look after 1,600 people who are now homeless. And if the destruction continues, UNRWA is going to have to take responsibility for many more. And it’s becoming extremely difficult for us to operate and the conditions for the civilians are becoming harder and harder and much, much more difficult. And this is why we believe every action should be taken to protect the civilians. That’s why I appeal to the Israeli Government to halt this action and exercise much more restraint.


Q: I’m sorry that I came late, but can you just, for my audience, repeat what you said on what’s your message to the Israeli Government?

SG: I did indicate that they need to be careful about civilian casualties. They have an obligation, as an occupying power, for the protection of civilians. And the destruction of houses has added greater burden on the population and creating very difficult circumstances for UNRWA which is having to look after the people who are now homeless, finding places for them stay. And as the numbers increase, it is going to be even much more difficult for us to do it. And so I appeal for them to stop the destruction and really take steps, which is their obligation to protect the civilians.


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