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As UN Council Meets on Gaza Ship Raid, Obama, Ban and Justice Put in Question

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 31-June 1, updated -- In the wake of Israel's commando raid on the flotilla bound for Gaza, the UN Security Council in New York went into emergency session early Monday afternoon. Palestine's Permanent Observer Riyad Mansour called it a massacre. Inner City Press asked him what the Palestinian Authority expects from the Obama administration, in light of their read out from Barack Obama's call to Benyamin Netanyahu.

"It was a cautious statement," Mansour responded. Noting that Netanyahu has canceled his trip to Washington, Mansour said this was out of shame.

Non Council members also showed up. Sudan's Permanent Representative called Inner City Press to the side. I have something to say, he insisted. "Israel has written the communique of the International Criminal Court meeting in Kampala," he said. Inner City Press pointed out that Israel is not an ICC state party.

Spain's Ambassador went into the Council without speaking, as did U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative Alejandro Wolff. A reporter shouted out, "will you support a PRST?"

The spokesperson for a Permanent Five member of the Council predicted a Presidential Statement by the Council, later on Sunday. One can imagine the language being negotiated back and forth.

Ship, with Turkish flag, UNSC outcome not yet shown

It was said that the UN's Department of Political Affairs might given a briefing. Based on what? UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is in Kampala, after having sent his two most senior envoys to Sudan to the inauguration of Omar al Bashier, indicted by the ICC. Watch this space -- we will live blog from the Council stakeout.

Update of 1:41 p.m. -- a P-5 spokesperson emerges from the Council and says the format has been decided on, 15 plus two, Israel and Palestine.

Update of 1:44 p.m. -- Turkey's Ambassador emerges. On way on stairs he's asked, is there a Turkish draft PRST? "The Minister should speak first," he said, "in half an hour's time." A P-5 spokesperson says the text has been "seen."

Update of 1:50 p.m. -- Turkey's Ahmet Davutoglu arrives with entourage. He will do a stakeout for the Press after he speaks to the Council, a staffer says.

Update of 1:57 p.m. -- the UNSC meeting on Gaza is beginning, chaired by Lebanon on the last day of its Presidency. Israel and Palestine are seated, DSG Migiro is on the house. UN DPA's Taranco begins briefing.

Update of 2:37 p.m. - as Davutoglu, UK & others speechify, search is on for the PRST drafted this morning at the Egyptian mission, outside of which the Ambassadors of Lebanon and Palestine emerged 1/2 hour before the UNSC meeting.

Update of 2:47 pm -- France's Araud calls for investigation, and access "under the Vienna convention" to those from the flotilla imprisoned now in Israel. Also calls for meeting of the Quartet, to lift the blockade of Gaza. UN part time envoy Tony Blair, where are you?

Update of 2:55 p.m. -- it has been noticed, by other journalists, that while the UK and France are represented by their #1 Perm Reps, the U.S. #1 Susan Rice is not here. In DC, one reporter guesses, also noting her May 27 speech at "Fleet Week" -- how about Flotilla Week?

Update of 3:21 p.m. -- Turkey FM Ahmet Davutoglu describes PRST. Inner City Press asks if US on board, any interplay with Iran sanctions? "2 separate cases," FM Davutoglu says. We'll see.

Update of 3:42 p.m.- Egypt's Ambassador calls for investigation, and action "unlike on Goldstone report." But when asked about Egypt's own blockage of Gaza, he says the Rafa crossing is not for humanitarian aid, that is only up to Israel. Hmm...

Update of 4:05 p.m. - Council breaking until 4:30. Inner City Press asked Syria Amb if any link to Iran sanctions. He says, Israel wants to divert from the NPT...

Update of 4:30 p.m. -- beyond disputes about compensation, while the Turkish draft, OIC and NAM call for international investigation, the US has called for Israel to do the investigating -- not unlike Ambassador Susan Rice and Hillar Clinton on Sri Lanka's self investigation... Then again, the NAM opposed any UN panel on Sri Lanka. Double standards everywhere.

Update of 4:38 p.m.-- in the consultations, it was said that a PRST would be good, but that the way to proceed was "informal informals"- that is, not even in the consultations room. So here we wait.

Update of 5:17 p.m. -- As Turkey and the United States negotiate a UN Security Council Presidential Statement about the Israeli assault on the Gaza-bound flotilla, the language is getting watered down. From the "strongly condemn" proposed by the Turks, the First Revised draft now speaks of "deeply regret." And it is the "use of force" that is regretted -- which can be read as, both sides' use of force...

Update of 5:36 p.m. - Also in US Rev 1 flotilla PRST, while investigation's to be done in 30 days, it doesn't say #UN or non-Israeli investigation. Can Turkey live with this?

Update of 5:54 p.m. - here as a public service, h/t LouCharb, is a photo of Rev 1 of the flotilla PRST -

Update of 6:46 p.m. -- inside the Council consultations, comparison is made to last Western Sahara negotiations, which took 8 hours. This could top it. Diplomats head out for food, reporters subsist on potato chips from nearly empty vending machine.

Update of 7:53 p.m. -- Now French Ambassador Araud announces, a break until 9:15! A break from the break... Palestine's Riyad Mansour speaks of something "between Rev 2 and Rev 3." Separate Sudan story to follow. Now here.

Update of 9:15 p.m. -- this is the time that they said. So far, Perm Reps of Mexico and Brazil have walked by and in, and Israel's Danny Carmone has walked out. Inner City Press asks a well placed Council member spokesman, "So it's Wolff and the Turks?" He nods. An outgoing Chinese diplomat tells Inner City Press, "Strange, the whole world is outraged, but one country isn't. Watch that country in the next few days."

Update of 9:45 p.m. -- Chinese dip to Inner City Press on #flotilla: "whole world outraged, but one country isn't. Watch that country in next days." And, they're waiting for call from DC, which is waiting on another capital. Tel Aviv? He nods.

Update of 9:58 p.m. - not looking good. Rev 2, on which there was preliminary agreement is no longer the basis for discussions. Int'l inquiry? Mexican midnight?

Update of 10:35 p.m. -- Big lull on #flotilla PRST, & some dissing. Visible in consultations room, UK Lyall Grant walking around like a non-P5.

Update of 11:17 a.m. -- Palestine's Mansour says, down to a few words, US on phone to DC, maybe by midnight, maybe after w/ Mexicans. Maybe, maybe. It's what passes for news at this point.

Update of 11:21 -- a lot of interest in the effect of midnight on the UN. They can "stop the clock" at 11:59, and just pretend that it remains May. But that is unlikely, no reason to play with them when a PRST is from the Council as a whole. Some UN TV staffers reminisce that Perez de Cuellar was allowed to stay on some extra hours to conduct a peace deal while Dick Clark was in Times Square. There there's no news, there... history.

Update of 11:31 -- UK Lyall Grant leaves. "It doesn't seem to be very close yet," he says. Going to bed? "I'll be back if something happens." Put a fork in it?

Update of 11:56 p.m. -- Mexico UNSC Presidency minus four minutes and counting. Will the ball or #flotilla PRST drop? Where is Dick Clark?

Update of 11:59 p.m. -- Palestine Mansour says we might see white smoke on #flotilla PRST. 2 dips go for cigarettes. Lost in translation?

Update of 12:05 a.m. -- No action on #flotilla PRST, but Mexico's nameplate and flag has been moved into position. UN efficiency.

Update of 12:30 a.m. -- Bosnia's Ambassador stares into space as if in an airport, waiting for a flight delayed by an Icelandic volcano. The political coordinator of another P-5 country has left for the night. It's down to the P-1 Plus 1. 30 minutes into the Mexican president and still no solution.

Update of 1:19 a.m. -- A Turkish journalist gets a text message from the Mission inside: "there is still some hope." An American indicates the same. Could it be?

Update of 1:23 a.m. - News flash (!) the doors to Council are closed. "They are going into formal consultations and then they will come out." Condemning or regreting? Israeli investigation? Watch this space.

Update of 1:28 a.m. -- UN DPI staff go in, who transcribe formal meetings. Looks like the deal is done. But what is it? Watch this space.

Update of 1:35 p.m. -- a Lebanese journalist rushes out with the text, shares only with Al Jazeera. "Condemns," he tells Press. "Those acts." We'll see.

Update of 1:40 a.m. -- They are setting up in the Chamber, Amb Heller is ready, bleary eyed journalists ready for questions after PRST is read out, we'll see.

Update of 1:44 onward -- things moving too fast for blogging (!) turn to - for text and Q&A, 10-4

Update of 2:38 a.m. -- final PRST and analysis here

* * *

Amid Gaza Blackout, UNRWA's Lights On, Canada Earmarks, Cast Lead's Shadow

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, April 22 -- As Hamas and Fatah have bickered over electricity payments, many in Gaza have gone without lights. Not among these are the UN Relief and Works Agency, which has its own generators. Inner City Press asked UNRWA's John Ging about the power plant shutdown, who's to blame and what can be done. Video here, from Minute 36:15.

  Ging acknowledged that the dispute is between the "de facto government of Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah," with the former recently agreeing to make payments to the latter. Fatah, as it happens, is accusing Hamas officials themselves of not paying their power bills. Truly, it is a power game.

  Inner City Press also asked Ging about on the one hand, executions carried out by Hamas, and on the other deaths killed by bombings by the Israel Defense Forces. Ging was cautious, referring to statistics on UN web sites and Hamas' rocket killing "a migrant worker on an Israeli kibbutz." He said that condemning executions is not within UNRWA's mandate, but that the wider UN system has condemned.

UN's Ban in Gaza, Ging at center, power plays not shown

  It was at the end of Ging's press conference that spokesman Martin Nesirky called on Inner City Press, when Ging was going to leave. Inner City Press asked Ging about Canada's funding decision on UNRWA. "You ask the big questions right at the end," Ging said.

  He went out of his way to express appreciation to Canada, saying it has not decreased but only ear-marked its funding. But in the U.S. House of Representatives, an "UNRWA Humanitarian Accountability Act" has been introduced. Watch this site.

Footnote: Recently the author Normal Finkelstein was invited by the UN Correspondents Association to give a talk at the UN. Inner City Press attended, and asked for Finkelstein's assessment of Ban Ki-moon's performance during Operation Cast Lead. The review was not positive.

  After the talk, the New Republic ran a review of not only Finkelstein but UNCA. [Ok, full disclosure of membership in UNCA and appearance in the New Republic piece.] The byline included that the author was an intern at the Inter Press Service, a media closely aligned with the generally pro Palestinian Group of 77 bloc. The affiliation led to some agita. Only at the UN.

* * *
As Egypt Walls Off Gaza, UN's Position Shifts, Still Silent on Cairo Protests

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 30 -- With hundreds of protesters outside the UN's building in Cairo, in New York the spin of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's position(s) on the Egypt's construction of an underground wall to seal off Gaza gathered force.

  The Kuwait News Agency, KUNA, headlined an article on December 29, "Ban supports Egypt's decision to build steel wall along border with Gaza." Since the UN has repeatedly dodged questions about the wall, which Inner City Press asked in connection with the now-stalled Gaza Freedom March, this seemed surprising.

  The KUNA article, further down, said that Ban's support for the wall is "implicit," and quoted his Deputy Spokesperson:

"UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon implicitly supports Egypt's decision to build a steel wall along its border with Egypt, meant to curb weapons smuggling into the Strip. 'We are aware of the media reports over recent days. It is our understanding that Egyptian efforts to counter illicit trafficking of arms and ammunition into the Gaza Strip, as all states are called upon to do by UN Security Council Resolution 1860, are ongoing,' his deputy spokesperson Marie Okabe told KUNA."

  Given the UN's refusal to answer Inner City Press' December 28 request for comment on Egyptian authorities' blocking press access to the protesters in front of the UN building in Cairo, on December 30 Inner City Press asked a narrower, more targeted question, "In light of the public report that Ban "supports Egypt's decision to build steel wall along border with Gaza," please clarify whether Ban in fact supports, implicitly or otherwise, the construction of this wall."

  The response repeats the quote used by KUNA, but amplifies it with an additional paragraph expressing concern for potential humanitarian consequences, see below.

UN's Ban and Egypt's Mubarak, sealing of Gaza with wall not shown

Subj: Your question on Egypt/Gaza
From: unspokesperson-donotreply [at]
To: Inner City Press
Sent: 12/30/2009 1:42:28 P.M. Eastern Standard Time

Regarding the reports about Egypt's construction activity, we would reiterate that it is our understanding that Egyptian efforts to counter illicit trafficking of arms and ammunition into the Gaza Strip, as all states are called upon to do by UN Security Council Resolution 1860, are ongoing.

As for any potential humanitarian consequences, we continue to be gravely concerned about socio-economic conditions in Gaza. The key to a sustainable solution to the crisis in Gaza is for resolution 1860 to be implemented in full, including an end to the Israeli blockade and the reopening of all legitimate crossings between Gaza and Israel and Gaza and Egypt, as prescribed in the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access.

  So does UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon support Egypt's construction of the wall? Watch this site.

 Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

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

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

* * *

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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