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Gaza Casualties Disputed, UN Implies Killed Men Are Not Civilians, Ban Takes No Questions

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

UNITED NATIONS, December 29 -- Deviating from the way it reports casualties in conflicts from Darfur to the Congo, the UN on Monday announced that less than 65 women and children have been killed since Saturday in Gaza. Inner City Press asked UN Humanitarian Coordinator John Holmes who had decided to use this methodology, and how it contrasts with that used by the UN and his Office in Darfur and the Congo. It's not a methodology, Holmes answered, we were just trying to be helpful.  One wag asked, helpful to whom?

    Another UN official, Karen AbuZayd of the UN Relief and Works Agency, said that she too was dubious about the numbers, even that "a good lawyer" had told her not to use them. Inner City Press asked her, in light of her report that Israel's air strikes are targeting "individual houses and individual families," how these are being selected, whether they raise the presumption of extrajudicial killing, and if UN human rights officials such as the rapporteur on the issue Philip Alston -- or the International Criminal Court -- have been contact in this regard.

  Ms. AbuZayd described a process in which people receive phone calls telling them to leave their houses, either because there are weapons in the houses -- she questioned how Israel could know this -- or because the residents include perceived Hamas senior leaders.  She said her office has not been in touch with the UN's human rights officials, but that she's seen statements she agrees with. Click here for Navi Pillay's statement.  UNRWA's web site does not appear to have been updated for these ten past crucial days, or since December 18 as of December 29 at noon, click here for that.

UN's Ban and AbuZayd, dispute on politicized casualty numbers not shown

  As so often happens at the UN, the questions fell along predictable political lines. As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was leaving after reading a statement and taking no questions, a correspondent from an Arabic cable channel shouted a question at him. Later a journalist from a Lebanese newspaper asked Holmes, the humanitarian, to explain Ban's call for Arab foreign ministers to use all efforts to bring the conflict to a close. She asked, What did Ban mean? Holmes was unable to answer. Ban said he had to meet "Ambassadors from the region." But this has happened before, the unilateral statement with no questions taken.

  A right-leaning US television network, on the other hand, emphasized the firing of rockets at Israel. He also asked why pressure is not brought to bear on Egypt to open the crossing at Rafah. Holmes said its a problem of allowing only "one way" access. But the "Arab street," as they call it, is asking the same question of Egypt, albeit for a different reason. Why imprison civilians in the shooting gallery that is Gaza? Perhaps the UN should at least advocate for women and children, to which they appear to limit their definition of civilian in this conflict.

   Holmes noted in an aside that some women may not be civilians. So is the UN's figure going to go up -- or down?

  Inner City Press has pursued the Rafa crossing issue with Ambassador of Egypt, to be reported on later today on this site - click here.

As previously reported, Israel's UN Ambassador Gabriela Shalev on December 23 met with Ban Ki-moon. Inner City Press asked Ban's Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe, at that day's noon briefing, what the meeting had been about.  That the expiration of the cease fire in Gaza would have been discussed seemed obvious. The question was intended to glean whether any statement as to timing had been made by the Israeli Ambassador. "We'll get you a readout," Ms. Okabe said. Video here.

   Later on December 23, Ban's Spokesperson's Office sent Inner City Press the following:

From: unspokesperson-donotreply [at]
To: Inner City Press
Sent: 12/23/2008 3:31:10 P.M. Eastern Standard Time
Subj: Your question at noon

Regarding the Secretary-General's meeting with the Israeli Permanent Representative today, it was purely a courtesy call.

   "Purely a courtesy call"? That is the phrase used when diplomats who are leaving the UN visit the 38th floor for a final photo opportunity with the Secretary-General. We'll see.

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.

* * *

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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