Syria Update: Ahmad Fawzi, Spokesman for the UN/Arab League Special Envoy on Syria, Kofi Annan (Geneva)
18 May 2012

Transcript of the press briefing by Ahmad Fawzi, Spokesperson for the Joint Special Envoy on Syria of the United Nations and the League of Arab States.

Question: Based on what evidence has Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared that the bomb attacks in Syria have been carried out by Al-Qaeda?

Ahmad Fawzi, Spokesperson for the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States, Kofi Annan: That is a very important question and I would refer you to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General. I am aware, and the Joint Special Envoy is aware, of what the Secretary-General has said, and I quote from the transcript: “I believe that there must be Al-Qaeda behind it.” So Mr. Ban has said that he believes that there must be Al-Qaeda behind it. The Joint Special Envoy has also said that there is a third element that appeared on the ground in Syria, which is worrying. We have not yet been able to ascertain who this element belongs to – who it is – and we are in the process of doing so. But any further questions on the statement by the Secretary-General should be directed to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Question: Just a follow-up on that. You are talking about a third element. So could you please elaborate on that third element? And I believe that if the Secretary-General is making such statements, he is certainly also relying on elements, documents and evidence that you provide him because you are taking care of that region?

Mr. Fawzi: It is a joint effort, really. The Department of Peacekeeping Operations in New York is managing the deployment of our observers. Our observers and their commander, Major General Robert Mood, are reporting both to the Joint Special Envoy and to New York. So it is a joint operation. And when we speak about third actors on the ground, we mean there are the hallmarks of activities and incidents and explosions that appear to come from sources other than opposition or Government sources. This has yet to be verified. We have to be very, very careful. As you know, the twin suicide bombs in Damascus that had horrifying casualties were claimed first by a jihadist group. The same jihadist group denied that that claim was authentic a few days later, denied that the video that was posted on the internet was authentic, called it a fake. So we have to be very, very careful who we apportion responsibility to.

Question: Good morning. I would like to ask you about the state of deployment of the observer mission. How many observers have been deployed yet? And second, I would like to ask you on the cooperation between you, the United Nations mission, on the one hand, and the Syrian Government on the other hand. Are you pleased with the cooperation of the Syrian Government so far? Thank you.

Mr. Fawzi: I have long stopped using adjectives of any kind to describe either the situation or […] an event. First of all, on observers: I do not have the exact figures. I know that General Mood will be announcing today what the exact figure on the ground is. But I believe it to be over 250 military, perhaps up to 270 today. But as I said, I do not have the exact figure, and General Mood will be making an announcement in Damascus today. He is pleased with the rapid deployment, and we are very grateful to our twin Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support, as well as to Member States, who have made their staff and personnel available at such speed. We will reach the final phase of operational capacity, I believe, in record time, up to 300, very soon. As I said, I believe we have up to 270 already on the ground. Those are military observers. We also have civilians on the ground. We have, at the moment, I believe, between 60 and 70 civilians on the ground, assuming their responsibilities in monitoring implementation of the other elements of the six-point plan.

On your other question, the Joint Special Envoy and his team have been in constant contact with the Syrian Government at various levels, both through UNSMIS in Damascus and through our communications from Geneva. Our team on the ground is meeting not only with Government officials but also with opposition representatives in various locations. We are deployed in over six, seven or eight locations now in Syria – Homs, Hama, Dara’a, Idlib, Aleppo, several locations around Damascus – and we travel frequently to and from these locations, and we meet people. So I would say that it is not a question of being happy or unhappy, or pleased or not pleased. It is a question of focusing on the task at hand in a serious, dedicated and perseverant manner.

Question: Thank you. Apparently General Mood has just said that the United Nations has very close to 216 military observers on the ground. Did you just say there were 250?

Mr. Fawzi: I said I do not have the exact figure, I believe there are between 250 and 270.

Question: There is an interesting video posted on the internet that shows a United Nations observer being dragged away during Tuesday’s attack, right in front of a United Nations vehicle. I wonder whether you have seen that or have any comment on that?

Mr. Fawzi: No, I have not seen it. And I really do not comment on videos posted on the internet.

Question: General Mood was saying today that observers cannot stop the violence. Is he trying to lower the expectation of the goals of the observer mission or what can we make of his comments?

Mr. Fawzi: I think you should ask General Mood. What he has been saying repeatedly is that the presence of the observers usually calms the situation initially. He has also said that only the parties can stop the violence. And that is why we appeal every day, several times a day, to the parties to stop the violence. And I will let General Mood’s statements speak for themselves. He is eloquent and articulate enough to express what we all feel.

Question: I would like to ask two questions if I am permitted. The first one relates to the G8 meeting. I am wondering if Kofi Annan has had any input into the G8 meeting, if he has been asked to have an input, and what you hope for the G8 countries to agree – if anything – on Syria. And the second question: Given what Ban Ki-moon has said on Al-Qaeda, and given the increasing evidence of human rights abuses by the opposition, as well as by the Syrian Government, I wonder if there is any light at the end of the tunnel for the Annan plan or if it is just going to get worse, with more and more mud-slinging from both sides.

Mr. Fawzi: That is a very long question, but pertinent. On the G8, we are of course following very closely those meetings where Member States get together, and there is a further meeting – I think today – in Chicago, a NATO summit. We follow these meetings closely. The Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, will be attending both meetings. [It has later transpired that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will participate in the NATO summit but would not attend the G8 meeting.] Whatever input is asked for from us goes to the Secretary-General. Whether he chooses to use it or not is of course his prerogative. But what we would hope for is continued unity in the international community, towards the six-point plan and towards Mr. Annan’s mission. Because it is unity in the Council that has so far secured any kind of movement on implementation of the plan, however small. Unity in the Council and unity within the international community are essential for the success of this plan.

As for your second question: There have been violations on both sides. There have been violations of the ceasefire in several forms. We – like you – see and hear media reports such as they are coming out of the country. We have our own observers on the ground, our eyes and ears, who report back to us. And we condemn, in the strongest terms, violence in all its forms by all parties. This must come to an end for any political process to be launched and to have a glimmer of success. All this talk about the light at the end of the tunnel and the doomed plan and the shaky plan – there is one plan on the table and that is the mediator’s six-point plan. Both sides have accepted it, both sides have vowed to implement it.

The plan calls for a cessation of hostilities in all its forms, it calls for humanitarian aid to those in need, and it calls for a political process that would address the concerns and aspirations of the Syrian people. We continue to push for the implementation of those three tracks and rest assured that Mr. Annan and his team are not idle, are not sitting back and waiting for this to happen. There are concrete efforts and actions that are being undertaken, both publicly and behind the scenes. Publicly, I would mention the observers on the ground, who are also risking their lives every minute of the day that they visit a conflict zone in Syria. I must applaud their courage and their creativity, on behalf of Mr. Annan and on behalf of all of us at the United Nations, in carrying out their very difficult and challenging task. The Annan plan, as we have said time and time again, is the only plan on the table at the moment. If we loose sight of our goal, then what are we doing here? Our goal is to end the crisis and to move to a political transition. I will stop there. Thank you.

Question: I have heard that an important personality was expected in Damascus today at 7 p.m. Is this Mr. Annan?

Mr. Fawzi: Alright, we are getting very specific here. Look, let me say the following: As a general principle, we do not discuss visits by personalities, from wherever to a location where their lives may be at risk. Our people are working under very challenging circumstances and, for security reasons we do not give dates, times and details of travel plans of our staff, whatever level they may be. Having said that, I can say yes, we can expect a visit soon. We have said before that the Joint Special Envoy is considering an invitation to visit Syria, but no dates have been set yet. His Deputy also plans to visit Syria but I cannot disclose his arrival time, or his arrival day, or his arrival date at this time.

Question: Two brief questions also related to Mr. Annan’s travel plans. Could you give at least some indication whether he is planning to visit other countries in the region in the near future? And second – given what you said at the beginning this morning, that there is a worrying development of third party involvement – how do you assess how that complicates the role of the observer mission which frankly already looks a bit like mission impossible?

Mr. Fawzi: I will just say this: Any violence in any form is threatening, not only to our observers but to the Syrian people, who are getting the brunt of this violence, who are apparently suffering fatalities and casualties as a result of this violence. So whether it is the first, second or third element, they are all uncalled for, and we ask that they all stop. Is he visiting other countries in the region? It is possible, it is possible. You know where he has been, so you can figure out where he has not been and guess where he might go.

I would like to point out to you that UNSMIS, the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria, has a website. So it might be enlightening, I hope educational and informative, if you visited that every once in a while. We try to post everything we do on there as quickly as possible. It is http://www.un.org/news/focus/syria                         [while this is a page of the UN news Centre specifically dedicated to developments in Syria, the site of the mission is http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/missions/unsmis/                        ]

Thank you all very much.