Palestinians declare UNRWA Gaza director ‘persona non grata’

Palestinian factions said that the UNRWA director and his deputy will no longer be permitted to stay in the Gaza Strip “due to his hostile positions and bias in favor of the occupation.”

A HAMAS supporter burns an Israeli flag in Gaza City on May 24. (photo credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS)
A HAMAS supporter burns an Israeli flag in Gaza City on May 24.
(photo credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS)
Palestinian factions on Wednesday declared Matthias Schmale, director of operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in the Gaza Strip, persona non grata and said he will not be allowed to return to the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave.
The factions claimed that Schmale was “a major reason for the suffering of thousands of Palestinian refugees and UNRWA employees in the Gaza Strip.”
They also declared Schmale’s deputy, David de Bold, persona non grata.
The factions said that the UNRWA director and his deputy will no longer be permitted to stay in the Gaza Strip “due to his hostile positions and bias in favor of the occupation.” They called on UNRWA to appoint a new director for its operations in the Gaza Strip.
Schmale has been called in for consultation with his bosses in Jerusalem after angering Palestinians with comments they said favored Israel during last month's fighting.
An official told Reuters that Deputy Commissioner-General Leni Stenseth would temporarily lead the Gaza team in Schmale's absence.
The decision to “expel” Schmale from the Gaza Strip came after his controversial statements regarding the recent Israel-Hamas fighting.

Schmale told Israel’s Channel 12 last week that the Israeli military strikes on the Gaza Strip appeared to be carried out with “sophistication” and “precision.”
“I have the impression there is a huge sophistication in the way the Israeli military struck over the 11 days,” Schmale said. “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.”
Schmale’s statements drew strong condemnations from many Palestinians, who accused him of “completely ignoring Israeli crimes.”
In the past week, Palestinians protested against Schmale and demanded that he immediately leave the Gaza Strip.
Schamle expressed regret and said that his remarks on Channel 12 have offended and hurt those who had family members and friends killed and injured during the war.
“I truly regret to have caused them pain,” Schmale wrote on Twitter. “I reiterate my sincere condolences to those who had family members and friends killed. I express my utmost respect and solidarity with my UNRWA colleagues and their families who suffered immense pain and loss.”
He said that “military precision and sophistication are never a justification for war.” He also explained that he did not say that the IDF operated within the laws of war. “Killing more than 200 civilians, including innocent women and children, is not acting within laws of war. There must be an independent investigation and accountability for those actions.”

Reuters contributed to this report.