UN Gaza chief apologises after 'praising' Israel army's 'precision'
A senior official at the UN's Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has apologised after appearing to praise the 'precision' and 'sophistication' of Israel's air strikes during its 11-day bombardment of the besieged Gaza strip.
Matthias Schmale, UNRWA's Gaza director, made the remarks during at interview with Israel’s Channel 12 on Sunday, days after an Egypt-brokered truce ended Israel’s devastating assault on the densely populated territory.
Rights groups have accused Israel of war crimes for attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure - including high-rise buildings, commercial centres and residential neighbourhoods. The bombing campaign killed more than 250 Palestinians, including 66 children, according to Gaza's health ministry.
Responding to Israel’s claims that its bombardment had been precise, Schmale said: "I..have the impression there is huge sophistication in the way the Israeli military struck over the 11 days".
"So yes they did not hit, with some exceptions, civilian targets. But the viciousness and ferocity of the strikes were heavily felt".
Schmale also acknowledged the deaths of more than 60 children, 19 of whom went to UNRWA-schools, during the interview.
"I think the precision was there but there was unacceptable and unbearable loss of life on the civilian side," he said.
Schmale's remarks prompted the Palestinian NGOs Network and the Palestinian Human Rights Organisations' Council to issue a joint condemnation, accusing him of ignoring "crimes committed during the latest Israeli offensive" on Gaza.
The statement said it was "regrettable" that the Schmale would make such comments, given the UNRWA’s role in helping Gaza’s 1.4 million refugees.
Instead, Schmale was “indirectly praising the precision and sophistication of the Israel army” which is “constantly committing war crimes and crimes against humanity" against the Palestinians, the statement added.
(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
Schmale apologised in a series of tweets on Tuesday, writing: "Recent remarks I made on Israeli TV have offended & hurt those who had family friends killed & injured during the war that has just ended. I truly regret to have caused them pain".
He also reflected on his own choice of language, tweeting: "Military precision and sophistication are never a justification for war. There is no justification whatsoever for killing civilians."
Schmale has served as UNRWA’s Gaza chief since 2017, before which he worked for the same agency in Lebanon.
UNRWA, which provides mainly education and health services to Palestinian refugees, is working with other UN agencies on launching an appeal to the international community to shore up Gazan aid and reconstruction efforts.