East Jerusalem / Gaza /PNN/
Palestinian resistance groups have declared the director of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) in the Gaza Strip persona non grata and expelled him from the besieged enclave over his praise of the recent Israeli onslaught.
They said on Wednesday Matthias Schmale was “a major reason for the suffering of thousands of Palestinian refugees and UNRWA employees in the Gaza Strip,” adding that he would not be allowed to return to the coastal sliver.
The Palestinian factions also declared Schmale’s deputy, David de Bold, persona non grata.
The UNRWA director, along with his deputy, will no longer be permitted to stay in Gaza “due to his hostile positions and bias in favor of the occupation,” they said, urging the UN agency to appoint a new director for its operations in the blockaded territory.
Meanwhile, Israel’s Channel 12 TV reported that Schmale and de Bold left the Gaza Strip on Wednesday.
A UNRWA spokesman said Schmale had been called into Jerusalem for consultations with UN officials and had decided to take an extended leave of absence.
The spokesman further noted that de Bold would continue his job remotely from al-Quds and that Deputy Commissioner-General Leni Stenseth would run the Gaza office on-site in the interim.
In an interview on May 23, Schmale told Channel 12 that the Israeli airstrikes on Gaza during the 11-day aggression appeared to be carried out with “sophistication” and “precision.”
He also claimed that there were not currently any shortages of food, medicine or water in Gaza due to the alleged Israeli reopening of crossings.
The remarks drew outrage from Palestinians, with the Hamas resistance movement saying Schmale’s “comments are a complete distortion in favor of the Zionists, including an attempt to exonerate the occupation of the murder of … Palestinians.”
Similarly, several Palestinian rights groups said in a joint statement that the remarks “completely ignored the crimes committed during the latest Israeli offensive against Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip.”
They added that Schmale was “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 UNRWA Gaza director issued an apology, expressing regret that his comments have offended the victims’ families.
“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. I truly regret to have caused them pain, & reiterate following points I have made through countless interviews & tweets,” he tweeted.
The Neutrality and Inviolability of UNRWA Installations Must be Respected at All Times
UNRWA is deeply concerned about actions by parties to the conflict during recent hostilities in Gaza that caused damage to its installations and violated its inviolability and neutrality.
With no advanced warning, between 13 and 15 May 2021, the Israeli Air Force conducted strikes that caused damage to UNRWA installations, most notably to the UNRWA Zaitoun Preparatory Boys’ School “A” and Elementary Boys’ School “A”. This included the school’s inner compound yard, which was struck by a missile, contrary to the inviolability of UNRWA premises and despite the schools being designated as an emergency shelter for civilians during the 11-day escalation. The strike calls into question respect for the fundamental principle of inviolability. Thankfully, no displaced persons were inside the school at the time of the strike and no physical injuries caused.
The Agency’s installations, like all United Nations facilities, are marked as such and fly a United Nations flag on the roof. UNRWA shares the coordinates of all of its installations periodically with relevant Israeli authorities and in times of conflict, the coordinates of designated emergency shelters are shared daily.
While investigating how to secure the building from the missile, a detailed assessment on 31 May 2021 revealed what appears to be a cavity and a possible tunnel, at the location of the missile strike. The depth of the cavity is approximately 7.5 meters below the surface of the school. UNRWA discovered the existence of a possible tunnel in the context of the investigation of the fired missile. There is no indication of the existence of any entry or exit points for the tunnel within the premises.
UNRWA condemns the existence and potential use by Palestinian armed groups of such tunnels underneath its schools in the strongest possible terms. It is unacceptable that students and staff be placed at risk in such away.
UNRWA demands that all parties desist from any activities or conduct that put beneficiaries and staff at risk and undermine the ability of UNRWA staff to provide assistance to Palestine refugees in safety and security.
UNRWA installations are inviolable, and their neutrality must be respected at all times.
UNRWA calls for the parties to the conflict to act in accordance with international law. Letters of protest regarding this incident have been sent to both parties.
Israel launched the bombing campaign against Gaza on May 10, following Palestinian retaliation against violent raids on worshipers at the al-Aqsa Mosque and the regime’s plans to force a number of Palestinian families out of their homes at Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem al-Quds.
Apparently caught off guard by the unprecedented barrage of rockets from Gaza, Israel announced a unilateral ceasefire on May 21, which Palestinian resistance movements accepted with Egyptian mediation.
According to Gaza’s Health Ministry, 253 Palestinians were killed in the Israeli offensive, including 66 children and 39 women, and 1948 others were wounded.