UN agency in tiff with Israeli government over worker's death

Israel criticizes UNRWA after it issues statement following death of its employee in Qalandia riots allegedly by IDF; Relief agency claims investigation underway, man was innocent bystander; Foreign Ministry says soldiers fired back after being met with Moltov cocktails, feeling lives in danger

The Israeli Foreign Ministry has sharply criticized the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for a statement condemning the killing of one of its employees earlier this week. Rubin Zayed, a father of four, worked as a cleaner for UNRWA was one of three Palestinians shot and killed during a clash in the Qalandia refugee camp north of Jerusalem.


As so often happens in these cases, the circumstances are under dispute. Israeli Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told The Media Line that a group of police who went into the camp to make an arrest was met with “large-scale resistance” including stones and Molotov cocktails. He said a group of soldiers who then entered the camp believed their lives were in danger and opened fire. Palestinian officials said stones were thrown, but that the soldiers used disproportionate force.


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Later that day, UNRWA, which is responsible for helping some five million Palestinian refugees in the region, issued a statement about the death of their employee.


“Credible reports say that he was on his way to work and was not engaged in any violent activity. He was shot in the chest. Another UNRWA staff member, a sanitation laborer, was shot in the leg during the same operation and is in a stable condition. An UNRWA investigation is ongoing,” the statement said.


It continues with a request for calm.


”UNRWA condemns the killing of its staff member and calls on all sides, at this delicate time, to exercise maximum restraint and to act in accordance with obligations under international law.”


The Israeli foreign ministry fired back with a statement of their own.


“We were disappointed (but not surprised) at UNRWA’S press statement,” it reads. “Quite aside from the fact that UNRWA did not even bother to approach any official Israeli sources for comment, its statement was rushed to the press while the violent riots were still raging in Qalandia. Hence, it begs the question of how it was possible for the Agency to collect forensic evidence, cross-reference personal eye witness reports and reach peremptory conclusions – all of that in the space of just a few hours.”


In addition, the Foreign Ministry had some advice for UNRWA. “We call upon UNRWA to return to its original humanitarian agenda of assisting Palestinian refugees, while refraining from any one-sided political advocacy activities. Only thus can it hope to be taken seriously – both by Israel and international donor community.”


UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told The Media Line that the Foreign Ministry statement was flawed in several ways.


“Before issuing that statement, we spoke to both Israeli civilian and military officials including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” Gunness said. “The right hand of the Foreign Ministry needs to know what it’s left hand is doing.”


Gunness said UNRWA has “six independent eye witnesses to the killing of our colleague who all say he was unarmed and wasn’t throwing rocks or engaging in violence.”


Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said that as far as he knows UNRWA has not approached the ministry for information.


“It is precisely because they failed to contact us, contrary to former understandings, that we were ired to the point of issuing the sarcastic statement,” foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told The Media Line. “When it comes to their affairs, they urge us to display caution and patience but when it comes to criticize us, they are hasty and precipitous.”


The latest tiff only adds to the tensions between the Israeli government and UNRWA. In the statement, the Foreign Ministry said UNRWA “allowed a third party to use some of its installations in order to organize ‘summer camps” where anti-Semitism and incitement to violence were preached to Palestinian youth.”


UNRWA spokesman Gunness said UNRWA had nothing to do with those summer camps.


Article by Linda Gradstein


Reprinted with permission from The Media Line



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פרסום ראשון: 08.28.13, 20:02
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