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At UN at Gaza, New Year's Eve Meeting Is Called "No Joke" by Arab League As Air Strikes Continue

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, December 31 -- On the fifth day of air strikes on the Gaza Strip, Egypt for the Arab Group requested an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. It was New Year's Eve. Six blocks west on 42nd Street, the well-known ball was set to drop. In the UN, nearly all staff had left at 3 pm. At a press briefing at noon, Ban Ki-moon's Deputy Spokesperson Marie Obake said Ban had that day called the foreign ministers of Brazil and Canada. Hamas, on the other hand, had apparently reached out to Russia as its conduit to the world.

  In the run-up to the meeting, the Arab League's representative Yahya Mahmassani said that a draft resolution will be introduced. He acknowledged that it little to no chance of passage -- not tonight, he emphasized, referring to the Council's rule of 24 hour notice. But will the United States agree to what the Arab League proposes? It seems unlikely. "It is not a joke this time," the Arab League's representative insisted. No one was laughing. He added that Arab foreign ministers would be coming Monday, not Friday, from Saudi Arabia, Libya, Morocco, Lebanon and others, but not Sudan.

   Out on Second Avenue and 43rd Street, Inner City Press first-hand witnessed two men in dark overcoats loading the two foot long rear portion of a missile into a 4 by 4 on 43rd Street. The license plate was diplomatic, and one of the two men had a security officer's ear piece and held a letter on UN stationary. The inference is that the Israeli mission has an exhibit, or prop, to play show and tell with.

  Tuesday night in front of the Israeli mission on Second Avenue and 42nd Street there were two competing protests. North of 42nd Street the signs read, Free Palestine. To the south were Israeli flags. An e-mail encouraging participation in the latter did not mention that the goal was to shout over the Free Palestine crowd. Props everywhere. Updates below.

Ambassadors of Palestine, Egypt and Arab League, before New Years Eve

Update of 5:59 p.m. -- for the UK, Ambassador John Sawers has rushed into the meeting. While he should answer questions about his endorsement of this month's offensive in the Congo against the Lord's Resistance Army, his presence answered in part the Arab League's doubts about the level of representation that the Western countries would send. Then again, the spokesman for a European member said that his country has problems with the draft resolution as presented.

Update of 6:02 p.m. -- for the US, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad arrived and was asked, are we here all night? "I hope not," he said, and went in.

Update of 6:45 p.m. -- The Council has moved from consultations to an open meeting. Rushing in for the Secretariat came Nicholas Heysom and Kim Won-soo, followed by Vijay Nambiar. Two Permanent Representative lounged smoking behind the soda machine. Security guards buzzed about. And at 6:45, Ban Ki-moon arrived, shaking hands affably. He was asked about the Brazil and Canada calls, but had to rush into the chamber.

Update of 7:03 pm -- Ban says "over 300" have been killed in Gaza -- over "sixty women and children" -- and four in Israel.  Meanwhile, Arab League diplomatic sources tell Inner City Press that the postponement from Friday to Monday of the ministers' appearance is not unrelated to a failure to come to agreement on how to negotiate around the draft resolution -- draw a US veto or water it down -- and, among other things, what to demand about the Rafah border crossings.

Update of 7:16 pm Libya's Ambassador Giadalla Ettalhi starts up, regretting these events in the season "commemorating the birth of Jesus." Things are moving along.  While it now looks like it won't happen, if this meeting went to midnight, a UN spokeswoman says that the meeting would have to be suspended, five members leave and the new ones come on. So are the Ambassadors of Mexico, Japan, Austria, Turkey and Uganda lurking around on New Year's Eve?

Update of 7:40 pm -- the draft resolution has eight operative paragraphs, the last of which is simply to remain seized. There's a call on "Israel to immediately cease its military attacks." There is no mention of Hamas, or of rockets.  A Western Council member's spokesman scoffed that as presented, this draft might not even have eight votes, and would be sure to be vetoed.

Update of 9:26 p.m. -- After the speeches were over, and the U.S. made its implicit veto threat, Israel's Ambassador came out to take questions. Inner City Press asked her to response to the UN's numbers, as tweaked in the statement of Ban Ki-moon, of four dead in Israel and over 300, with over "sixty women and children," in Gaza. [There is more to the story of how Ban's speech was changed at the last minute, but that will have to wait.]

  Israel's Ambassador said there is no comparison, Israel makes phone calls before its air strikes to try to avoid casualties. But what about the reality, the numbers?

  Few give the resolution as drafted much chance of passage. 2008 ends at the UN with kabuki theater, and will resume with same in 2009, with Japan now on the Council. Italy, too, is leaving the Council, and on December 29 at its Ambassador's fancy house on 76th Street Proseco was flowing, along with salmon and salami.  Inner City Press' farewell to Italy was to urge to do the right thing, how ever belatedly, on Somalia. And that will be our report during what remains of the holiday, post-Champagne. Happy New Year.

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

Click here for Inner City Press Nov. 7 debate on the war in Congo

Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on UN, bailout, MDGs

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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