Annan, UN envoy condemn Israeli assassination of Hamas leader

Sheikh Ahmad Yassin

United Nations officials today condemned Israel’s killing of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, with Secretary-General Kofi Annan calling for all concerned to avert an intensification of the conflict.

“I do condemn the targeted assassination of Sheikh Yassin and the others who died with him,” Mr. Annan told reporters as he arrived at UN Headquarters in New York. “Such actions are not only contrary to international law, but they do not do anything to help the search for a peaceful solution.”

“I appeal to all in the region to remain calm and avoid any further escalation in tensions,” he added.

With the diplomatic Quartet of the UN, European Union, Russian Federation and United States meeting today in Cairo, the Secretary-General said the assassination “has complicated issues.” He added that he spoke this morning to his envoy, Terje Roed-Larsen, who is in Egypt with the other representatives, and they were assessing the impact of the latest actions.

“As I have indicated earlier, it doesn’t really facilitate the task of peacemakers,” Mr. Annan said.

Mr. Roed-Larsen also issued a statement strongly condemning Israel’s action. “In addition to the killing of so many, the assassination of Ahmad Yassin threatens the tenuous steps currently underway to revive the peace process,” he said.

“Only a viable peace process can bring about a halt to violence,” stressed Mr. Roed-Larsen, the UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.

SECRETARY-GENERAL’S PRESS ENCOUNTER UPON ARRIVAL AT UNHQ (UNOFFICIAL TRANSCRIPT)

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan

Q: What is your reaction to the assassination of Sheikh Yassin?

SG: I must say, I do condemn the targeted assassination of Sheikh Yassin and the others who died with him. Such actions are not only contrary to international law, but they do not do anything to help the search for a peaceful solution. I appeal to all in the region to remain calm and avoid any further escalation in tensions.

Q: The Quartet is meeting in Cairo later today. What do you hope to achieve? What is the future now? Is the MidEast peace road heavily derailed right now?

SG: Well, this has complicated issues. I spoke to my Envoy this morning, Terje Roed-Larsen, who is in Egypt with the other representatives, and obviously they are assessing the situation and the impact of the latest actions. As I have indicated earlier, it doesn’t really facilitate the task of peacemakers.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, on the oil for food, are you appointing a commission this week? You said you were giving more details, what does this entail?

SG: Yes, I would hope to be able to get a team, a group together, to do it. It’s a very complex issue, and I hope once they have been able to do their work it would be very clear who was responsible for what, and where does blame lie. I know there is a lot that is being dumped on the Secretariat, which is not fair. I am not saying that the Secretariat may not have made some mistakes, but I think there are lots of issues, and the group that we put together should be able to clarify.

Q: [inaudible] an appearance of a conflict of interest by having your son Kojo work for a company that eventually got the bid, even if it was the lowest bid, to inspect on oil for food.

SG: He had worked for that company. I had nothing to do with the contracts committee. He had left the company, and was working for them mainly in west Africa, in Nigeria and Ghana, and the process as reported was completely above board, and they reviewed all the bids and went through their processes and selected the winner.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, Sir, we have been reading reports in the press about Ayatollah Al Sistani saying that he is not happy with the interim constitution, that he wants the UN to reject that constitution. What is your understanding of the situation?

Number two, you have traditionally condemned operations by Palestinians against Israelis, deplored Israeli operations against Palestinians. Today you say you condemn the Israeli action against Sheikh Yassin. Does that represent a shift?

SG: Let me take on your first question. I understand a letter has come in which I haven’t had time to study yet, from Iraq, on the issue you raised. I will be discussing it with Mr. Brahimi and I will need to study it before I can react to it.

I don’t think that there is a shift in my position. As I indicated, I condemn strongly the targeted assassination of Yassin. I don’t see the shift that you imply.

Q: In the past you had deplored operations by the Palestinians, by the Israelis against the Palestinians – today you are actually condemning the operation.

SG: I have often condemned attacks. I don’t think there is any shift at all. You go back and look at my statements – I have been very clear.

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