Replacement for UNRWA’s Ousted Gaza Director Rebukes Predecessor’s ‘Indefensible’ Admission That Israel Did Not Target Civilians, Hamas Claims
The temporary replacement for Matthias Schmale, the Gaza director of the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency — who left the Strip after he was criticized for admitting that Israel did not target civilians during the recent Operation Guardian of the Walls — called Schmale’s remarks “indefensible” on Thursday in a meeting with Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, according to a statement from militant group.
Schmale, head of Gaza operations at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), had told Israel’s Channel 12 on May 22 that he “would not dispute” the IDF’s claim that airstrikes during Guardian of the Walls were “very precise.”
“So yes, they didn’t hit, with some exceptions, civilian targets,” he added.
The following Tuesday, in a series of tweets, the UNRWA official expressed regret for the remarks, which he said “offended & hurt those who had family members & friends killed & injured during the war that has just ended.”
UNRWA is the biggest employer in the Gaza Strip, and UPI reported Wednesday that agency employees in the enclave took to the streets outside UNRWA headquarters, demanding Schmale be removed.
Schmale left the Strip and has not returned.
Hamas issued a statement on its website later Wednesday claiming that the terror group’s leader Yahya Sinwar met that evening with Schmale’s temporary replacement, UNRWA’s Deputy Commissioner-General Leni Stenseth, to discuss the issue.
The statement asserted that Stenseth expressed understanding of the Palestinian reaction to Schmale’s comments, “affirmed her solidarity” with the Palestinians, expressed condolences on behalf of UNRWA, and called Schmale’s remarks “indefensible.”
The Palestinian news agency Safa reported Wednesday that Schmale and his deputy had been expelled from the Strip and declared persona non grata.
An UNRWA official told The Algemeiner Thursday that the organization had not received any official notification that Schmale had been declared persona non grata, and that he had left Gaza on a holiday after being called to headquarters for consultations with the commissioner-general.
The official added that UNRWA does not yet know if Schmale will return to his prior post.