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Israeli extremists set fire to UNRWA HQ in East Jerusalem

The UNRWA agency in east Jerusalem has been subject to multiple arson attacks this month [Getty/file photo]

Israeli extremists set fire to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees’ headquarters in East Jerusalem late on Monday, the UN said, in the second incident of this kind targeting UNRWA this month.

The perpetrators were “children and young people”, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said in a statement on X.

Footage showed parts of the compound ablaze with the fire spreading.

“This has got to stop,” Lazzarini said.

It follows a series of arson attacks on the Palestinian refugee agency’s compound in occupied East Jerusalem, leading to the UN body to reduce its activities due to the dangers posed to staff.

Last week, Israeli settlers twice set fire to the perimeter of UNRWA’s headquarters, where a petrol and diesel station for the agency’s fleet of cars is situated.

Lazzarini added that a crowd accompanied by armed men were seen chanting “Burn down the United Nations”.

As a result, UNRWA was forced to temporarily shut down its office.

UNRWA’s Senior Communications Manager, Jonathan Fowler told The New Arab that the recent arson attacks are a “major concern” and they were witnessing “unprecedented levels of violence” from vandalism to rocks being thrown at workers.

Fowler added that when the violence against  UNRWA “moves from words to inflammatory flames, that’s a problem”.

“Demonstrations that began earlier on, when it was just words, slogans and leaflets, that was one thing, then it became blockades of the gate, and slapping the vehicles, pointing toy guns, it’s stepping up a notch each time, that’s why the fire is very problematic,” he told The New Arab.

Fowler said that such arson attacks “shouldn’t become a norm anywhere, UN or not”.

On Tuesday, Israeli settler groups stormed Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, raising Israeli flags and performing Talmudic rituals at the Muslim holy site.

In the Naqab (Negev) Desert city of Sderot, a far-right rally organised by settler groups on Tuesday and attended by the likes of extremist minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, called for the expulsion of Palestinians from Gaza and the settlement of Jews in the territory.

The Palestinian refugee agency has been particularly vulnerable in recent months following accusations made by Israel in January, without presenting evidence publicly, that 12 of its staff members in Gaza took part in the 7 October Hamas attacks.

In recent weeks, far-right Israelis have held demonstrations demanding the closure of the Palestinian refugee agency, while the Israeli Knesset continues to debate a bill to ban UNRWA from operating in East Jerusalem.

The campaign to expel the UNRWA agency, which serves over 5 million Palestinian refugees in the region and beyond, appears to be spearheaded by Jerusalem’s right-wing deputy mayor, Arieh King, who is seeking reelection.

As a result, several Western countries froze their funding to the agency, although many have resumed financing the agency due to insufficient evidence about the claims.

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