Foreign Ministry, UNRWA spar over Qalandiya deaths

Jerusalem bashes refugee agency for its ‘rushed and superficial’ condemnation; UNRWA calls statement ‘nonsense’

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

Hundreds attend the funeral of three Palestinian men shot dead by Israeli troops in the Qalandiya refugee camp in the West Bank, Monday, August 26, 2013 (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
Hundreds attend the funeral of three Palestinian men shot dead by Israeli troops in the Qalandiya refugee camp in the West Bank, Monday, August 26, 2013 (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

The Foreign Ministry on Tuesday lashed out at a United Nations refugee agency for the latter’s condemnation of the deaths at the hands of the IDF of three Palestinians in clashes on Monday in Qalandiya, calling UNRWA’s statement “rushed and superficial” and telling the group to abandon “one-sided political advocacy.”

UNRWA issued a condemnation of Monday’s incident, in which clashes between IDF soldiers and Palestinians in the camp outside Jerusalem also left at least 20 injured.

According to Israel, Border Police officers who entered the neighborhood to conduct an arrest were assaulted by hundreds of Palestinians with rocks and Molotov cocktails. A brother of one of the victims told AP that undercover, plainclothes soldiers entered their home and “after half an hour we started hearing shooting from the soldiers inside our house, and then people started throwing rocks at them.”

Citing “credible reports” while rioting continued in Qalandiya, UNRWA said the man, an employee of the refugee agency, was “on his way to work and was not engaged in any violent activity,” and condemned the man’s killing.

The Foreign Ministry expressed the government’s regret over the fatalities that resulted from the arrest operation, and reiterated that the IDF had launched an investigation.

“Without prejudice to the outcome of the investigation, we were disappointed (but not surprised) at UNRWA’s press statement from yesterday,” the ministry said in a statement. “While omitting to mention any context or reason for the Israeli operation, it was quick to cite ‘credible reports’ in determining that its employee had been shot.”

The Foreign Ministry panned the UN agency for not bothering to obtain comment from Israeli officials, and its haste to publish the statement “while the violent riots were still raging on in Kalandia [sic].”

The ministry then faulted UNRWA for failing “to display similar zeal and enthusiasm when asked to investigate its own cases of alleged wrongdoing,” notably its summer camps that had previously been referred to in a film titled “Camp Jihad.”

“We therefore call upon UNRWA to return to its original humanitarian agenda of assisting Palestinian refugees, while refraining from any one-sided political advocacy activities,” it said.

UNRWA spokesperson Christopher Gunness told The Times of Israel Tuesday night that the Foreign Ministry’s statement “appears to be nonsense.”

“We have six independent eyewitnesses and we stand by our statement absolutely,” Gunness said. He added that, contrary to the Foreign Ministry statement, UNRWA spoke to Israeli officials and civilians on two occasions on Monday and that its statement was issued at 7 p.m., well over 12 hours after Monday morning’s incident took place.

Gunness added that UNRWA stands by its previous statement concerning the “Camp Jihad” film and called the Foreign Ministry’s portrayal of UNRWA summer camps “a catalog of lies.”

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