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On Gaza, New Year's Eve Council Meeting, Missiles and Protests on 42nd Street,  Casualty Confusion

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

UNITED NATIONS, December 31 -- As a Security Council meeting on Gaza was scheduled for 6 p.m. on New Years Eve, the UN's humanitarian coordinator John Holmes revised his way of presenting the number of civilians killed. He put the total dead in Gaza at 320 to 390, and eschewed the distinction he made on December 29, that the 62 women and children killed were a proxy for civilians.

   But the spokesman for the UN Relief and Works Administration, Chris Gunness, had since said that 25% of those killed have been civilians, which would put the figure at 80 to 97. Inner City Press asked UNRWA head Karen AbuZayd to explain the steps taken to move the analysis from Monday's figure, 62, to the current UN reported tally.

  Ms. AbuZayd said that 62 had been an UNRWA figure, albeit one which on Monday she had immediately characterized as not credible. She then said that UNRWA is now conservatively saying 20 to 25% of fatalities have been civilians, and again equated this with women and children. Video here, from Minute 36:28.

   It was surprising that even with two days to eliminate their double standard, the UN system was still floundering on this issue. In its other reporting on conflicts, the UN does not equate civilians with women and children.

  Inner City Press asked John Holmes about the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs report, apparently sent by e-mail to some but not all journalists who cover the UN, of over 150 civilians fatalities in the Congo, in Orientale Province -- did that number include all of the men who were killed, what was the UN system's involvement in the underlying offensive against the Lord's Resistance Army and what is the UN doing now to try to protect civilians going forward? Video here, from Minute 36:40.

 Tellingly, Holmes began by saying that those killed in the Congo were just "villagers," and therefore presumed to be civilians. But is Gaza not something of a village, albeit densely populated? The UN had been the first to note the prevalence of militias among the population in the Eastern Congo. So why equate men with combatants in Gaza but not the Congo? Is it only because the LRA's Joseph Kony, even more than Sudan's Omar Al-Bashir, has few defenders, or none so persistent as the U.S. and Israel?

In Gaza, flour delivered in earlier days

  Inner City Press also asked Ms. AbuZayd about which UN premises in Gaza have been impacted -- she focused on the UNSCO compound next to the presidential guest house, in which as "collateral damage," she said, all vehicles had been destroyed -- and about OCHA's own report that for maintenance workers from the Gaza Coastal Management Water Utility, "the use of water piping greatly increases the risk of CMWU employees mistakenly identified by IAF aircraft as militants transporting rockets." Video here, from Minute 18:17.

  Ms. AbuZayd said she wasn't aware of CWMU workers being targeted, as they wear "bright orange vests that are carefully guarded." Some drones, those.

First-hand footnotes:  Inner City Press witnessed two men in dark overcoats loading the two foot long rear portion of a missile into a 4 by 4 on 43rd Street and Second Avenue. 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. An inference: 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.

  That the protests were not on First Avenue where the UN is, one wag opined, is just another symbol of the UN's lack of centrality and influence on unfolding events in the Middle East. Reference was made to Ban Ki-moon's "extensive" telephone log, no copy of which has been provided. Wednesday's announced calls were to ministers of Brazil and Canada. Courtesy calls, all, apparently.

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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