Gaza: Palestinian groups denounce UNRWA director’s comments on ‘precise’ bombings

UNRWA Gaza director Matthias Schmale (Adel Hana - AP)

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  May 26, 2021

Matthias Schmale provokes outrage after he says Israeli strikes carried out with ‘sophistication’ and ‘precision’.

Palestinian civil society groups and Hamas have condemned comments made by a director from the UN agency for Palestinian refugees about the 11-day Israeli bombardment of the besieged Gaza Strip after he described them as having being carried out with “sophistication” and “precision”.

Matthias Schmale, the director of operations for UNRWA in the Gaza Strip, told Israel’s Channel 12 on Sunday: “I am not a military expert, but from my point of view there is a high precision in the Israeli army bombing during the past 11 days.

“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 statement on Tuesday, Hamas, which governs Gaza, said it was “shocked by Schmale’s statements to Israeli Channel 12 about the recent aggression on Gaza”.

Schmale’s remarks “justified the targeting of civilians and their homes, and sought to downplay the size of the losses,” the group said, accusing him of “praising the ability of the occupation army”.

In a joint statement, also on Tuesday, the Palestinian NGOs Network (PNGO) and the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations’ 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 organizations 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.”

‘Vent frustration’

In total, Israeli air strikes killed 248 Palestinians in Gaza, including 66 children, between 10 and 21 May, and wounded 1,948 others, the Gaza health ministry has reported.

Nine high-rise buildings were flattened by Israeli air strikes, including al-Jalaa tower, which housed the offices of numerous media production companies and news agencies, including the Associated Press, Al-Jazeera and Middle East Eye, drawing condemnation from media and human rights organizations. 

Israeli air force pilots’ bombing of Palestinian residential towers was a way to vent their frustration for failing to stop Palestinian armed factions from firing rockets into Israeli towns, according to an Israeli TV report.

A number of Israeli pilots spoke anonymously to Israel’s Channel 12 last week about their experience flying warplanes over the Palestinian enclave during the campaign that ended with a ceasefire on Friday.

“I went on a mission to carry out air strikes with a feeling that destroying the towers is a way to vent frustration over what is happening to us and over the success of the groups in Gaza,” one Israeli pilot told Channel 12.

Schmale apology

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.”

However, some social media users criticized 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 bombing.