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UN official in Gaza regrets remarks, says no justification for Israeli killing of civilians

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A candlelight vigil is held in memory of civilians killed in the Israeli regime aggression, Gaza, 25 May 2021. (Photo by LAT)

A United Nations official in Gaza has tendered an apology for his remarks that the recent Israeli airstrikes on the besieged strip appeared to have been carried out with “sophistication” and “precision”.

UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNWRA) director Matthias Schmale had made the controversial remarks to Israel's Channel 12 on Sunday.

 “I am not a military expert, but I also have the impression that there is a huge sophistication in the way that the Israeli military strikes struck over the last 11 days,” he was quoted as saying. “Yes, they didn't hit, with some exceptions, civilian targets, but the viciousness, the ferocity of those strikes was heavily felt.”

Schmale hastened to add that the “precision was there but there was unacceptable and unbearable loss of life on the civilian side.”

His remarks were vehemently denounced by Palestinian rights groups, as well as regional countries.

Stung by the growing criticism, the UN official later apologized for his comments.

“I deeply regret that my comments about the precision of IDF strikes are being misused to justify what cannot be justified,” he said on Twitter. “Killing children breaks the rules of war and must be independently investigated. There must not be impunity!”

Responding to a news report on Twitter, quoting his remarks, Schmale termed it “manipulative”.

“My issue is that the precise strikes of the sophisticated army killed more than 200 civilians including 20 children that went to UNRWA schools. This is unacceptable and cannot be white washed!” he wrote.

Quoting me like this is, @i24NEWS_EN, is manipulative. My issue is that the precise strikes of the sophisticated army killed more than 200 civilians including 20 children that went to UNRWA schools. This is unacceptable and cannot be white washed!

— Matthias Schmale (@matzschmale) May 25, 2021

In another tweet, the UN official said he did not say the Israeli forces operated “within the laws of war.”

“Killing more than 200 civilians including innocent women & children is NOT acting within laws of war. There must be independent investigation & accountability for those actions,” he remarked.

This is blatant manipulation of my interview, I did NOT say the IDF operated within the laws of war. Killing more than 200 civilians including innocent women & children is NOT acting within laws of war. There must be independent investigation & accountability for those actions

— Matthias Schmale (@matzschmale) May 26, 2021

In a series of tweets, Schmale regretted hurting “those who had family members and friends killed and injured” during the 11-day aggression by the Israeli regime.  

(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

“There is no justification whatsoever for killing civilians. Any civilian killed is one too many. It is simply unbearable that so many innocent people have paid with their lives,” he wrote, stressing that military precision and sophistication were “never a justification for war.” 

“Many people were killed or have been severely injured by direct strikes or collateral damage from strikes. In a place as densely populated as Gaza, any strike will have huge damaging effects on people and buildings,” he added.

The UN official, recounting the horror of Israeli regime’s bombardment on the besieged territory, called it a “collective punishment of the civilian population”.

“Wrong to reduce Gaza situation to humanitarian crisis,” he emphasized. “While Gaza citizens barely starting 2 grapple with magnitude of losses, crucial to put this brutal conflict in context of 14 years of blockade, succession of conflict, Great Marches of Return & devastating COVID impact.”

Schmale said the blockade must be lifted and a meaningful political process must resume, stressing that the people in the occupied Palestinian territories are “entitled to a life in dignity, including Palestine refugees.”

Aggression and ceasefire

At least 254 Palestinians were killed in the Israeli regime’s military strikes on the besieged Gaza strip earlier this month, before Tel Aviv was forced to beat the retreat.

The latest escalation was triggered by the Israeli regime that forced Palestinian families to vacate their homes in Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, followed by a violent onslaught on worshipers at the sacred al-Aqsa Mosque.

After Gaza-based resistance groups retaliated, the occupying regime started conducting strikes against civilian areas in the besieged territory, targeting high-rise residential buildings and media offices.

The regime’s atrocities sparked anger and outrage across the world, with massive rallies organized to condemn the blatant aggression.

An Egyptian-brokered truce that came into force in the wee hours of May 21 ended the apartheid regime’s 11-day aggression on the besieged Gaza strip.

Devastating impact on children

The Palestinian casualties included at least 66 children, who were killed in the Israeli regime’s bombardment of the Gaza strip during 11 days of imposed war.

As the occupied territory slowly recovers from the devastation caused by the Israeli regime’s aggression, there are growing concerns about the psychological effects of violence on survivors, especially children.

Children and youth bore the worst brunt of the Israeli regime’s onslaught on the besieged coastal enclave, according to rights groups.

The Israeli regime’s offensive also razed to ground around 1,800 residential structures in Gaza and partially damaged at least 14,300 others.  

The latest Israeli regime aggression came nearly seven years after the regime’s 51-day bombing campaign of Gaza in 2014, which killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, including 500 children.

At least 67 Palestinians were killed and hundreds more wounded in one night, which Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas then described as a “massacre”.

Hala Shehada, a 28-year-old mother from northern Gaza’s Beit Hanoun area, described her harrowing experience of living and experiencing both wars.  

“Living in Gaza means having to relive trauma time and time again. War is the ugliest thing in the world. And the real war is the one you have to live with your memories of it,” she was quoted as saying by AlJazeera.

“It’s very hard to be a mum in Gaza. I was terrified myself. My daughter’s mental state deteriorated severely during the offensive. She was crying hysterically when she heard the bombs,” said Shehada.

Like many mothers in Gaza, Shehada said both her and her daughter are in need of psychological healing. “Whatever I managed to overcome in the 2014 offensive has come back to haunt me,” she said.

According to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), 12 of the 66 children killed by the Israeli regime’s attacks were participants in its program to help Gaza’s children overcome trauma from previous wars.

The children who survived the offensive are likely to relive the experience of the bombing nightly, NRC said in a recent statement, adding children in Gaza have five nightmares a week on average.

Children under 18 years of age constitute 45 percent of the population in the Gaza Strip.  

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