The head of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) apologised yesterday for describing the eleven-day Israeli bombardment of the besieged Gaza Strip as "precise" and "sophisticated". Matthias Schmale made his comments during an interview with Israel's Channel 12 on Saturday.
"I have the impression there is a huge sophistication in the way the Israeli military struck over the eleven days," said Schmale. "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 whom went to UNRWA schools. So I think the precision was there but there was unacceptable and unbearable loss of life on the civilian side."
Gaza medical officials have reported that at least 270 people were killed by the Israeli onslaught against the Palestinian territory, including 67 children. Aid officials have expressed concern about the humanitarian situation in the besieged enclave.
Palestinian civil society organisations condemned Schmale's comments as "misleading and dangerous". In a joint statement, the Palestinian NGOs Network and the Palestinian Human Rights Organisations' Council said that his comments "completely ignored the crimes committed during the latest Israeli offensive against Palestinian civilians" in Gaza.
"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, made statements indirectly praising the precision and sophistication of the Israeli army, when Israel is in fact constantly committing war crimes and crimes against humanity on the Palestinian people," explained the organisations. "Instead of calling for the root causes of the conflict to be addressed, he appeared to defend the actions of the Israeli military."
In response, the UNRWA official expressed regret for the remarks in a series of tweets. He acknowledged that he "offended & hurt those who had family members & friends killed & injured during the war that has just ended." He added his "utmost respect & solidarity with my UNRWA colleagues & their families & friends who suffered immense pain & loss." UNRWA is a major employer of Palestinians across all of its areas of operation, including the Gaza Strip.
"There is no justification whatsoever for killing civilians," Schmale added. "Any civilian killed is one too many. It is simply unbearable that so many innocent people have paid with their lives… Military precision and sophistication are never a justification for war."
(1-8) 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:
— Matthias Schmale (@matzschmale) May 25, 2021