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UNRWA closing East Jerusalem HQ after arson by Israelis

Lazzarini said that it was the second attack on the compound in a matter of days [Getty/file photo]

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees said Thursday it was temporarily shuttering its headquarters in occupied East Jerusalem after Israeli extremists set fire to the perimeter following weeks of repeated attacks.

“This evening, Israeli residents set fire twice to the perimeter of the UNRWA headquarters in occupied East Jerusalem,” agency chief Philippe Lazzarini said on X, formerly Twitter, lamenting that it was the second attack on the compound in a matter of days.

He described how “a crowd accompanied by armed men were witnessed outside the compound chanting ‘Burn down the United Nations’.”

UNRWA and staff from other UN agencies at the time were on the compound, which has on its grounds petrol and diesel stations for a fleet of UN cars.

“While there were no casualties among our staff, the fire caused extensive damage to the outdoor areas,” Lazzarini said, adding that UNRWA staff had put out the fire themselves.

The attack came after two months of protests by Israeli extremists outside the aid facility including one last week when UNRWA workers were pelted with stones after months of harassment and intimidation by armed far-right activists.

“Our compound has been seriously vandalised and damaged. On several occasions, Israeli extremists threatened our staff with guns,” Lazzarini added.

Thursday’s arson attempts marked “an outrageous development”, he said, that put the lives of UN staff at serious risk.

“In light of this second appalling incident in less than a week, I have taken the decision to close down our compound until proper security is restored,” Lazzarini said.

Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Arieh King, who is said to be behind the campaign to evict UNRWA from the city, has tweeted that the next target ought to be “the enemy HQ at French hill”, referring to the nearby EU delegation.

The EU delegation told The New Arab that it was aware of King’s comments and this follows months of threats against the European office and other international representatives in Jerusalem.

“Unfortunately we are well aware of this campaign that is mistaking the EU Delegation in Jerusalem for the UNRWA Gaza Office, which is not correct,” a spokesperson told The New Arab.

“There have been a couple of demonstrations outside the EU delegation, both small in size but at last one had a threatening message, with a body bag placed at the entrance.

“Similar demonstrations have taken place in front of the UNRWA office in Jerusalem, which is equally unacceptable.”

UNRWA, which coordinates nearly all aid to war-torn Gaza, has been in crisis since January when Israel accused about a dozen of its 13,000 Gaza employees of being involved in the October 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel.

This led many donor nations, including its top donor the United States, to abruptly suspend funding to the agency, threatening its efforts to deliver desperately-needed aid in Gaza, although several have since resumed payments.

An independent review group of UNRWA, led by French former foreign minister Catherine Colonna, found some “neutrality-related issues” but said Israel had yet to provide evidence for its chief allegations.

Qatar’s foreign ministry issued a statement Thursday condemning “in the strongest terms the attack by Israeli settlers on the UNRWA headquarters”.

The ministry slammed the “systematic Israeli targeting of UNRWA”, maintaining it was aimed “to liquidate it and deprive millions of Palestinians of its necessary services”.

Created in 1949, the agency employs around 30,000 people in the Palestinian territories, as well as Jordan, Lebanon and Syria which host Palestinian refugees.

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