US/World News

UNRWA Gaza chief takes leave amid uproar over comments on Israeli air-strikes

(JNS) The Gaza director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) will be taking a “long leave of absence,” a spokesman for the agency said on Wednesday, June 2, according to Hebrew media reports. The announcement came after Matthias Schmale and his deputy were recalled to Jerusalem from the Gaza Strip amid Hamas anger at remarks made by Schmale during a May 22 Channel 12 interview.

Responding to a question about Israeli officials’ claims that Israel’s bombardments in Gaza during last month’s conflict with terror groups there were “very precise,” Schmale said, “I’m not a military expert but I would not dispute that.” He had the “impression” that there had been “huge sophistication” in the way the Israeli military conducted its strikes during the 11-day conflict, he said, and also denied that there had been a lack of supplies in Gaza during the fighting.

Hamas was outraged, saying in a May 25 statement: “We remind Schmale that his primary job is to protect and aid Palestinian refugees and not to justify the Israeli aggression by killing their children and demolishing their homes.” Schmale apologized the same day, tweeting: “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 accused NGO U.N. Watch and the press of “blatantly manipulating” his comments in the Channel 12 interview.

Main Photo: Matthias Schmale, UNRWA’s Gaza director, gestures as he inspects the damage at UNRWA’S headquarters, in the aftermath of Israeli air strikes, in Gaza City May 18, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammed Shana

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