UN agency says closing east Jerusalem HQ after arson by ‘Israeli extremists’

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The UN agency for Palestinian refugees said Thursday it was temporarily shuttering its east Jerusalem headquarters 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.

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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 “Israeli extremists staging protests outside the UNRWA compound”, he said, adding that one protest earlier this week “became violent when demonstrators threw stones at UN staff and at the buildings of the compound”.

Thursday’s arson attempts marked “an outrageous development,” Lazzarini said. “Once again, the lives of UN staff were at a 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.”

The UNRWA chief lamented that “over the past months, UN staff have regularly been subjected to harassment and intimidation”.

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

UNRWA, which coordinates nearly all aid to 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 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, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

Read more: UN agency says 80,000 have fled Rafah since Israel hiked operation this week

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