Secretary-General remarks to the press on the Middle East

UN photo

21 Jun 2024

Secretary-General remarks to the press on the Middle East


New York, 21 June 2024

I felt compelled today to voice my profound concerns about escalation between Israel and Hezbollah along the Blue Line. 

Escalation in continued exchanges of fire. 

Escalation in bellicose rhetoric from both sides as if an all-out war was imminent.

The risk for the conflict in the Middle East to widen is real -- and must be avoided.

One rash move – one miscalculation -- could trigger a catastrophe that goes far beyond the border, and frankly, beyond imagination.

Let’s be clear:  The people of the region and the people of the world cannot afford Lebanon to become another Gaza. 
On both sides of the Blue Line, many lives have already been lost, tens of thousands of people have been displaced, and homes and livelihoods have been destroyed.

Bushfires sparked by explosions are further devastating communities and the environment.

Unexploded ordnance and remnants of war litter the landscape. 

These pose additional threats to people in both Israel and Lebanon and to United Nations and humanitarian personnel.

The parties must urgently recommit to the full implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 and immediately return to a cessation of hostilities.

Civilians must be protected.  Children, journalists and medical workers should never be targeted.  And displaced communities must be able to return to their homes.

The world must say loudly and clearly:  immediate de-escalation is not only possible – it is essential.

There is no military solution.

Further military escalation will only guarantee more suffering, more devastation to communities in Lebanon and Israel, and more potentially catastrophic consequences for the region.

It is time for reason and rationality.  It is time for practical and pragmatic engagement by the parties to the diplomatic and political avenues available to them.

For our part, the United Nations is actively engaging to promote peace, security and stability, in line with Security Council Resolution 1701.

UN peacekeepers – UNIFIL -- are on the ground working to de-escalate tensions and help prevent miscalculation in an extremely challenging environment.  I deeply appreciate their service. 

The cessation of hostilities and progress toward a permanent ceasefire is the only durable solution. 

The United Nations fully supports diplomatic efforts to end the violence, restore stability and avoid even greater human suffering in a region that has seen far too much.

And we do so as we continue to press for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, the immediate and unconditional release of the hostages and a real pathway to a two-State solution.

Thank you. 

Question:  Today, as you call for de-escalation in the region, Israel has continued strikes in Gaza City, in the north, as well as in a displaced community near Rafah. What is your reaction?

Secretary-General: Our position has been very clear since a long time ago.  We need an immediate ceasefire, as we need an immediate release of hostages. Going on with a military operation that has a dramatic impact on civilians is not solving any problem.

Question: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary-General. First, can you tell us what the United Nations is doing to try and overcome the lawlessness that is preventing aid from actually getting to the people in need, in Gaza, and secondly, could we get your reaction to the announcement this week of a mutual assistance pact between North Korea and Russia? Thank you.

Secretary-General: Well, there are two different questions.  

First of all, the situation in Gaza became a situation of total lawlessness. Most of the trucks with humanitarian aid inside Gaza are now looted, because this is a war that is different from any other one. Usually, in a war there is one force that attacks, they occupy part of the territory of the force, then they guarantee security and management of the areas that they occupy. Here, we have attacks, we have bombings, then groups move to other places. Hamas returns to the original ones, and there is total chaos in Gaza and there is no authority in most of the territory. And Israel does not even allow the so-called Blue Police to escort our convoys because it is a local police linked to the local administration. So, lawlessness is total. We see extreme difficulty in distributing inside Gaza. So the problem is not only to bring things to Gaza, there must be a mechanism guaranteeing that there is a minimum of law and order that allows for that distribution to take place, and that is why a ceasefire is so necessary to get properly organized and implement a plan for that purpose.

In relation to the second question, there are sanctions, approved by the Security Council, in relation to the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea].  Any relationship of any country with DPRK, including the Russian Federation, must entirely abide by those sanctions.

Question: Secretary-General, let me get back to the Blue Line.  You just mentioned that it would be devastating if the escalation started, that it would be devastating for both people in Israel and in Lebanon.  How are you going to ensure the security and safety of the peacekeepers there and have you ever engaged with Israeli officials or do you have any plans to engage with Israeli or Lebanese officials on the situation there?  Thank you. 

Secretary-General: There are permanent contacts of UNIFIL with both sides in order to not only to do its best for de-escalation, but also to guarantee that the mission is accomplished and to protect the security, not only of people, but also of the peacekeepers themselves. There are very detailed plans for the protection of peacekeepers including, in the case of a total explosion. For all situations, there are plans that are established, there are rules to be followed in order to guarantee the safety of peacekeepers, whatever happens.  But now our main concern is to make sure that we do not have a dramatic escalation - that would be a disaster for the area and for the world.  

Thank you very much.