31 July 2006
Security Council Holds Emergency Meeting Following Israeli Attack on Qana; Secretary-General Says Act Must Be Condemned in Strongest Possible Terms
Lebanon 's Envoy Says No more Negotiations without Ceasefire; Israel Says Tragedy Occurred only Because Lebanon Not Free of Hizbollah
NEW YORK, 30 July (UN Headquarters) -- In the wake of an Israeli air strike that had killed dozens of civilians in a southern Lebanese village, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan this morning called on the Security Council to condemn the attack "in the strongest possible terms", and to take immediate action to halt the spiralling violence between Israel and Hizbollah, "for the sake of the people of the region and of this Organization".
"The authority and standing of this Council are at stake. People have noticed its failure to act firmly and quickly during this crisis," said Mr. Annan, briefing the 15-nation Council at an emergency meeting, following the Israeli air raid, which had left at least 54 people dead -- among them at least 37 children, according to preliminary reports -- in the Lebanese village of Qana.
Saying the deadly attack had created "a moment of extreme gravity" for the people of the Middle East, the authority of the United Nations, and especially the Council itself, Mr. Annan said: "We must condemn this action in the strongest possible terms, and I appeal to you to do likewise," adding that he was "deeply dismayed" that his earlier calls for immediate cessation of hostilities had not been heeded, "with the result that innocent life continues to be taken and innocent civilians continue to suffer".
"This tragedy has, rightly, provoked moral outrage throughout the world," Mr. Annan said, noting, regrettably, that some Lebanese people had turned their anger against the United Nations. Earlier today a large number of protesters had broken into the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) headquarters in Beirut, and briefly set fire to it. The fire had been quickly put out. As of now, three United Nations staff members had been reported injured, but none critically.
Describing for the Council "the dynamics in the region and in the south", Mr. Annan said that, earlier this morning, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora had told him the Lebanese Government had taken a decision that it would no longer engage in further diplomatic discussions and efforts to find a solution, without a ceasefire. He also said that the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) had received a request from the Israeli Defense Forces that the population of two villages, Ramyah and Ayta ash-Shab, should be evacuated before sunset today. Of course UNIFIL had refused to evacuate the villages, indicating that it did not have the capacity.
Pleading for an immediate cessation of hostilities to allow desperately needed humanitarian relief to reach the victims, he told the Council that the most urgent need was to bring all fighting to a halt without further delay. "For that, this Council has a solemn responsibility," he said, adding: "Action is needed now, before many more children, women and men become casualties of a conflict over which they have no control." Mr. Annan said that, at the same time, he and the Council should work together to build the political framework needed for a lasting ceasefire and a sustainable solution: the strengthening of Lebanon's Government, the disarming of all militias and the implementation of all Security Council resolutions, including 1559 and 1680.
Also criticizing the Council for its lack of action, Nouhad Mahmoud, Special Envoy of the Lebanese Foreign Affairs Ministry, said Israel was committing war crimes and atrocities against humanity. The fact that such massacres were yet to be taken up by resolutions of the Council did not mean that the truth was to remain hidden. The Lebanese demonstrators in the streets and squares, who, last year, had called for independence and freedom, had won the Security Council's support; that body had proclaimed, in many resolutions, Lebanese democracy and vitality, he said.
Today, those demonstrators were mourning their martyrs and calling on the Council to halt the fire immediately and without delay, to undertake a serious investigation of the massacre and those of the past three weeks. There was no place for any discussion today, other than his call for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, and a call for Israel to withdraw to behind the Blue Line. Lebanon could not be expected to negotiate or discuss anything else, while the "ruthless and pitiless sword of the Israeli killing machine continued to drip with the blood of innocent women and children". He asked the Council to back his request for an immediate session today, and his call for an immediate ceasefire.
Israeli Ambassador Dan Gillerman said that, if there was a ceasefire today, and Hizbollah retained its capability and huge arsenal of arms, it would rise again, and not just against Lebanon, but against the whole region. He called on the Lebanese Special Envoy to "tell the brave people of Lebanon, their Government and their Prime Minister, and the demonstrators in Beirut, not to be against the United Nations, but against the Hizbollah". He asked him work with Israel to create a culture of hope and not of violence. What had happened today should not be allowed to change the facts and the truth -- that Hizbollah must be totally disarmed.
Ambassador Gillerman called it a "horrible, sad and bloody Sunday". "While he apologized for the air strike that had cost civilian lives, he said there was no comparison between Hizbollah, which intentionally targeted Israeli civilians, and Israel, which tried to avoid civilian casualties. Israel had defended itself, and sometimes women and children had gotten hurt, because they had been used by Hizbollah as human shields. "Those people, including women and children, who were killed in this horrible tragic incident may have been killed by Israeli fire, but they are the victims of the Hizbollah," Ambassador Gillerman said. "They are the victims of terror. If there were no Hizbollah, this would never have happened."
The meeting convened at 11:40 a.m. and adjourned at 12:15 p.m.
United Nations Secretary-General KOFI ANNAN, opening an emergency session of the Security Council on Sunday morning, said the Council was meeting a moment of extreme gravity, first and foremost for the people of the Middle East, but also for the authority of this Organization and, especially, the Security Council.
During the night, the Israeli air force had bombed the village of Qana in south Lebanon. That was no longer in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) area of operation, so there had been no United Nations personnel nearby at the time of the attack. Chinese engineers and two medical teams had now managed to reach the area, and they were helping to clear the rubble and provide treatment to the survivors. He was relying on Lebanese authorities for his information, and preliminary reports said that at least 54 people had been killed, among them, at least 37 children. That action must be condemned in the strongest possible terms, and he appealed to the Security Council to do so.
The Secretary-General said he was deeply dismayed that his earlier calls for the immediate cessation of hostilities had not been heeded. Thus, innocent lives continued to be taken and innocent civilians continued to suffer. He repeated that call again from the Security Council chamber today, and he appealed to the Council to do likewise. He sent deep condolences to the families of all the victims of violence in Lebanon, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Gaza.
The tragedy had rightly provoked moral outrage throughout the world, he said. Regrettably, some Lebanese people had turned their anger against the United Nations. Early today, some Lebanese protestors had broken into the United Nations headquarters in Beirut and set it on fire. The fire had been quickly extinguished, but three staff members had been injured, although none critically. The demonstrators had left the building after intervention by the Lebanese armed forces, and he was deeply grateful to the Government for that prompt action.
He added that the United Nations House was the hub of humanitarian activities in Lebanon. Those activities would continue throughout the country. But, naturally, he feared similar reactions elsewhere in the region, or in the wider Islamic world. He appealed to the authorities and people in all countries to respect and ensure the safety of United Nations personnel and for everyone to understand that the United Nations was doing its best to help, through diplomacy, humanitarian action and through the efforts of UNIFIL, which, itself, had suffered tragic losses only a few days ago. The tragic events in Qana had reminded him that, 10 years ago, 100 people, who had taken refugee in the same village, had suffered a similar fate. The world must deliver that village from an endless cycle of violence.
In the last 18 days, several hundred Lebanese citizens had been killed -- the vast majority of them civilians, and at least a third of them children, he said. During the same period, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese had had to flee their homes, many of them under heavy shelling. Meanwhile, more than 50 Israelis had died, including 19 civilians, and the population of northern Israel had been subjected to intense and continuous rocket fire, and thousands were now in shelters. Both sides in the conflict bore a heavy responsibility, and there was strong "prima facie" evidence that both had committed grave breaches of international humanitarian law.
The present fighting had begun on 12 July with an unprovoked Hizbollah attack on Israel and the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers, he recalled. Since then, Hizbollah had continued firing rockets indiscriminately into northern Israel, from positions apparently located in the midst of the civilian population. No one disputed Israel's right to defend itself. But, its manner of doing so had caused, and was causing, death and suffering on a wholly unacceptable scale.
He had repeatedly condemned all actions that target civilians, and the High Commissioner for Human Rights had reminded all parties that they might be held accountable for any breaches of international humanitarian law. But, the most urgent need was to bring the fighting to a halt, without further delay. For that, the Security Council had a solemn responsibility. Action was needed now, before many more children, women and men became casualties of a conflict over which they had no control.
The Secretary-General, therefore, reiterated his call for an immediate cessation of hostilities, to allow desperately needed humanitarian relief to reach the victims. While that was happening, everyone could work together on the political framework needed for a lasting ceasefire and a sustainable solution: the strengthening of Lebanon's Government; the disarming of all militias; and the implementation of all Security Council resolutions, including 1559 and 1680. He would work with the Council in the development and deployment of a stabilization force to support the Government of Lebanon in its decision and responsibility to extend its authority throughout the country.
Saying he knew there were differences among the Council's members about the precise sequence of actions needed, he begged them to set those differences aside and come together on the most urgent point -- the immediate cessation of hostilities.
He also shared with the Council his conversation this morning with the Prime Minister Fouad Siniora of Lebanon. He had told the Secretary-General that his Government had taken a decision that it would no longer engage in further diplomatic discussions and efforts to find a solution, without a ceasefire. The Secretary-General had asked him if the Government as a whole had taken that decision, and the Prime Minister had reaffirmed that that was the decision of his Government.
The Secretary-General also shared with the Council that UNIFIL had received a request from the Israel Defense Forces that the population of two villages, Ramyah and Ayta ash-Shab, should be evacuated before sunset today. UNIFIL had refused to evacuate the villages, of course, indicating that it did not have the capacity to do so and that assistance was required from the Government of Lebanon. The Secretary-General thought the Council should know that information, in order for it to further understand the dynamics in the region and in the south.
He concluded by saying that the authority and standing of the Security Council were at stake. People had noticed its failure to act firmly and quickly during the current crisis. Today's events at the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) headquarters in Beirut had been, in part, an expression of that frustration. For the sake of the people of the region and of this Organization, he urged the Council to act, and to act now.
NOUHAD MAHMOUD, Special Envoy of the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Lebanon, said the Council was meeting today as innocent blood continued to be shed, while mothers wept and were awaiting the burials of their children from the attack at Qana. He had come to the Council today to ask: "When would the killing machine stop?" It was the third week. Now, Qana, once again, had met its fate with Israel, 10 years on. In Qana, that peaceful, quiet hamlet, where all had sought refuge, Israel's shells had not recognized the innocence of children or the sanctity of life. Rescue workers had already removed 60 corpses from the residential building, mostly women and children, and the final numbers from the latest Israeli massacre were still unknown. In the conscience and deepest heart of human hearts, everyone knew that Israel was committing war massacres and atrocities against humanity. The fact that such massacres were yet to be taken up by a resolution of the Security Council did not mean that the truth would remain hidden.
He said that the latest tragedy came at a time when the Government of Lebanon, in consultation with friendly States, were seeking to resolve the crisis in Lebanon. Its Prime Minister, on behalf of the united Lebanese Government, had set forth a seven-point plan, beginning with a comprehensive ceasefire, but it seemed that Israel had other solutions, involving shells, aircraft, the bombing of children, the prevention of medical and food from reaching villages, collective punishment and collective killing. Now, after the massacre, after many massacres, after the second Qana massacre, in respect of the dignity and will of the Lebanese people, and in memory of the martyrs who fell today and in the past three weeks, consideration of solutions before conclusion of a comprehensive ceasefire was not viable or acceptable.
The Lebanese demonstrators in the streets and squares, who, last year, had called for independence and freedom, had won the Security Council's support; that body had proclaimed, in many resolutions, Lebanese democracy and vitality, he said. Today, those demonstrators were mourning their martyrs and calling on the Council to halt the fire immediately and without delay, to undertake a serious investigation of the massacre and those of the past three weeks. Lebanon was committed to the United Nations as a haven for the weak and the victims of injustice, more than a podium for the strong. His Government, through its Prime Minister, had addressed the diplomatic corps, urging that it was a time for action, and not talk. With the support of the entire Lebanese nation, no stone had been left unturned in Lebanon's sincere desire for a rapid and comprehensive ceasefire. The seven-point plan proposed by the leader at the Rome conference had the support of all peace-loving nations.
Instead, he said, Israel had conducted another massacre in Qana, where it had murdered, in cold blood, more than 100 civilians, 10 years ago at a United Nations outpost there, in what it had called the "grapes of wrath". He wondered what principle of warfare it would invoke this time. Perhaps it should call it the "grapes of hatred". There was no place for any discussion today, other than his call for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, and a call for Israel to withdraw to behind the Blue Line. Lebanon could not be expected to negotiate or discuss anything else, while the "ruthless and pitiless sword of the Israeli killing machine continued to drip with the blood of innocent women and children". He asked the Council to back his request for an immediate session today and his call for an immediate ceasefire.
While he could understand the anger expressed at the United Nations House, he said he deplored the attacks against the building. The United Nations House was a house for all Lebanese. He knew that, deep within the Security Council's heart of hearts, it knew that Israel was committing atrocities on a scale the Council could not tolerate. It must pass on that truth to their Governments and urge them to move swiftly and immediately towards a ceasefire behind the Blue Line.
DAN GILLERMAN ( Israel) said that today was a horrible, sad and bloody Sunday. He mourned and grieved together with the people of Lebanon over the death of innocent civilians in Qana. The people killed in that horrible, tragic incident might have been killed by Israeli fire, but they had been the victims of the Hizbollah, the victims of terror. If there was no Hizbollah, that would never have happened. If Lebanon was free from the throes and stranglehold of that monster, that would never have happened. While everyone mourned the deaths, he must stress that Israel had never, and not in that particular case, targeted innocent people. For a long time, Qana had been a hub for Hizbollah, where it had, for a long time, launched rockets into Israel. He would make available a film of such a launch, right behind a three-story residential house very similar to the one hit today in Qana. Israel had beseeched and repeatedly asked for the residents of Qana to leave. He would not be surprised if Hizbollah had made them stay.
He said: "we are dealing with a ruthless, cynical and cruel enemy -- one of the most monstrous terrorists the world has ever known". It had no regard for life -- either Israeli or Lebanese -- and it had infiltrated every fibre and cell of the Lebanese country. One could not distinguish, in Lebanon, between the Hizbollah and the Lebanese. Hizbollah was everywhere; it had infiltrated and become a part of Lebanese society, but there was a "huge moral disequivalence" between the two sides. Israel's enemies had today launched more than 100 missiles at Israeli villages and towns, specifically to target women and children and to kill them. Israel had defended itself in that brutal war and, sometimes, women and children got hurt, because they were used as human shields. In Israel, homes were equipped with air raid shelters to shield civilians from the bombs; in Lebanon, they were equipped with missiles. "When you sleep with a missile, sometimes you don't wake up in the morning," he said.
"We today say we are truly sorry for the people of Lebanon and for the people who were killed," he said, adding that he had never heard Hizbollah say it was sorry for a single Israeli killed, because its declared aim was to target Israel. For Israel, every dead Lebanese child was "a horrible mistake and a tragedy". For the other side, every dead Israeli child was "a victory and a cause for celebration". He would not be surprised if the loss of human life today was exactly what Hizbollah had wanted to happen on the day that United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was in the region trying to reach a settlement. On any given day, when the statesmen were near to reaching a settlement, the terrorists, the extremists, the fundamentalists, "snatch it away, because they don't want a settlement".
He said that what was happening around the Council table today was exactly what they had wanted. While there was mourning in Israel and elsewhere in the world, there might be jubilation in Hizbollah strongholds, Tehran and Damascus -- they wanted the Council to be called to arms. He beseeched the Council "not to play into their hands, not to provide them with what they were seeking, while they sacrificed their own people as human shields and as victims".
To his Lebanese friend, he asked him to tell the brave people of Lebanon, their Government and their Prime Minister, and the demonstrators in Beirut, not to be against the United Nations, but against the Hizbollah. That was the monster that they had allowed to grow. If the Lebanese had taken care of that before, had deployed their forces in the south, if the Council had enforced resolution 1559 (2004), that would not have happened. He asked him to tell the Lebanese people to demonstrate, not for blood, but for peace and for hope. If they wanted to live together in that blood-ridden region, they needed to create a culture of hope and not of violence, in which the children of Qana would have been at school today, rather than huddled together amid the carnage of Qana. The culture of hatred must be changed, and the children must be taught about hope. What had happened today should not be allowed to change the facts and the truth -- that Hizbollah must be totally disarmed.
If there was a ceasefire today, and Hizbollah retained its capability and huge arsenal of arms, it would rise again, and not just against Lebanon, but against the whole region, he stressed. "Don't let Iran and Tehran, the sponsors of Hizbollah, rise again," he urged. Until they were stopped, there would be hostility and fire, and more innocents would pay the price.
Taking the floor again, Mr. MAHMOUD asked what good it was to turn eyes away from the massacre and the true reasons behind it. The Lebanese Government had called for a ceasefire since the first day, which would have given civilians on both sides of the border a chance to be saved from what had had taken place so far. Even a humanitarian truce, as suggested by the Secretary-General, and then rejected, before the weekend, would have been better. From the start, it had been clear that it was not Hizbollah that was the target, but Lebanon. Its infrastructure was the target, and hundreds of civilians had been killed, before Israel had even taken up any campaign against Hizbollah and its positions. There would be a potential new catastrophe in southern Lebanon, as long as a ceasefire was not declared, he said.
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