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Gaza declares UNRWA chief persona non grata over praise of fatal Israel raids

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)
Members of the Union of Arab Employees gather for a demonstration outside the headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in Gaza City on May 31, 2021 to demand the expulsion of its Gaza director of operations, Matthias Schmale, over his remarks on the recent Israeli aggression on Gaza. (Photo by AFP)

Palestinian resistance groups have declared the director of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) in the Gaza Strip persona non grata and expelled him from the besieged enclave over his praise of the recent Israeli onslaught.

They said on Wednesday Matthias Schmale was “a major reason for the suffering of thousands of Palestinian refugees and UNRWA employees in the Gaza Strip,” adding that he would not be allowed to return to the coastal sliver.

The Palestinian factions also declared Schmale’s deputy, David de Bold, persona non grata.

The UNRWA director, along with his deputy, will no longer be permitted to stay in Gaza “due to his hostile positions and bias in favor of the occupation,” they said, urging the UN agency to appoint a new director for its operations in the blockaded territory.

Meanwhile, Israel’s Channel 12 TV reported that Schmale and de Bold left the Gaza Strip on Wednesday.

An UNRWA spokesman said Schmale had been called in to Jerusalem al-Quds for consultations with UN officials and had decided to take an extended leave of absence.

The spokesman further noted that de Bold would continue his job remotely from al-Quds and that Deputy Commissioner-General Leni Stenseth would run the Gaza office on-site in the interim.

In an interview on May 23, Schmale told Channel 12 that the Israeli airstrikes on Gaza during the 11-day aggression appeared to be carried out with “sophistication” and “precision.”

He also claimed that there were not currently any shortages of food, medicine or water in Gaza due to the alleged Israeli reopening of crossings.

The remarks drew outrage from Palestinians, with the Hamas resistance movement saying Schmale’s “comments are a complete distortion in favor of the Zionists, including an attempt to exonerate the occupation of the murder of … Palestinians.”

Similarly, several Palestinian rights groups said in a joint statement that the remarks “completely ignored the crimes committed during the latest Israeli offensive against Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip.”

They added that Schmale was “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 UNRWA Gaza director issued an apology, expressing regret that his comments have offended the victims’ families.

“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 tweeted.

Tel Aviv launched the bombing campaign against Gaza on May 10, following Palestinian retaliation against violent raids on worshipers at the al-Aqsa Mosque and the regime’s plans to force a number of Palestinian families out of their homes at Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem al-Quds.

Apparently caught off guard by the unprecedented barrage of rockets from Gaza, Israel announced a unilateral ceasefire on May 21, which Palestinian resistance movements accepted with Egyptian mediation.

According to Gaza’s Health Ministry, 253 Palestinians were killed in the Israeli offensive, including 66 children and 39 women, and 1948 others were wounded.

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