Palestinian groups slam UNRWA director’s comments on Gaza attacks

UNRWA’s Gaza director Matthias Schmale said he has impression Israeli military struck targets with ‘sophistication’ and ‘precision’.

Matthias Schmale, UNRWA's Gaza director, gestures as he inspects the damage at UNRWA'S headquarters, in the aftermath of Israeli air attacks, in Gaza City [Mohammed Shana/Reuters]

Palestinian civil society organisations have condemned comments made by a senior figure at the UNRWA about the 11-day Israeli bombardment of the besieged Gaza Strip as “misleading and dangerous”.

Matthias Schmale, the director of operations for the United Nations Reliefs and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) in the Gaza Strip, told Israel’s Channel 12 on Sunday that the Israeli military’s strikes on Gaza appeared to be carried out with “sophistication” and “precision”.

“I have the impression there is a huge sophistication in the way the Israeli military struck over the 11 days,” Schmale said. “Yes they didn’t hit, with some exceptions, civilian targets, but the viciousness, the ferocity of those strikes were heavily felt.

“More than 60 children were killed, 19 of who went to UNRWA schools. So I think the precision was there but there was unacceptable and unbearable loss of life on the civilian side,” he added.

In a joint statement on Tuesday, the Palestinian NGOs Network (PNGO) and the Palestinian Human Rights Organisations’ Council (PHROC) said Schmale’s comments “completely ignored the crimes committed during the latest Israeli offensive against Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip”.

“It is regrettable that Mr. Schmale, who heads one of the most important international organisations responsible for protecting and advocating the rights of Palestinian refugees in Gaza, to provide statements indirectly praising the precision and sophistication of the Israeli army, when Israel is in fact constantly committing war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Palestinian people,” the statement said.

“Instead of calling to address the root causes behind the conflict, Mr. Schmale appeared to defend the actions of the Israeli military.”

The statement said Schmale’s comments provide cover and legitimacy to serious violations committed by the Israeli occupation forces.

According to Gaza health authorities, at least 253 Palestinians were killed, including 66 children, during the 11-day bombardment of the coastal territory. At least 12 people, including two children, were killed in Israel by rockets fired by armed groups in Gaza.

Residents in Gaza have spoken of how civilian areas – including high-rise buildings, commercial centres and residential neighbourhoods – were targeted by Israeli warplanes.

In one case, at least 42 Palestinians were killed – including four generations of one family – when their homes were bombed in al-Wehda Street in Gaza City. The roads leading to the nearby al-Shifa Hospital were also targeted, obstructing the movement of ambulances and civil defence vehicles in transferring the wounded.

The statement described Israel’s “systematic targeting” of civilians, civilian buildings and infrastructure not as “military gains” but rather, “to collectively punish and terrorise the civilian population in the Gaza Strip, as it has done so over the last 14 years through the imposition of an illegal and humanitarian blockade, and the launch of three destructive and deadly wars”.

Schmale issued an apology on Tuesday, and said that “military precision and sophistication are never a justification for war”.

“Recent remarks I made on Israeli TV have offended & hurt those who had family members & friends killed & injured during the war that has just ended,” he wrote on Twitter.

“I truly regret to have caused them pain.”

Some social media users criticised the apology – written in a series of eight tweets – for failing to mention Israel by name and alluding instead to “the terror from the sky” to refer to Israeli strikes.

“In 8 tweets made by @matzschmale, he did not mention Israel in any way to be accountable for its crimes in Gaza,” wrote Abdalrahim Abuwarda.

“He used passive voice when mentioned that there was killings although @UNRWA officially works in Gaza Strip and indeed witnesses everything.”

Source: Al Jazeera