UNRWA Says It Closed East Jerusalem Headquarters After Fire and Attacks

By John Mercury May 12, 2024

The main United Nations agency that aids Palestinians, known as UNRWA, said on Thursday that it would temporarily close its headquarters in occupied East Jerusalem for the safety of its staff after parts of the compound were set on fire following weeks of attacks.

“This evening, Israeli residents set fire twice to the perimeter of the UNRWA Headquarters in occupied East Jerusalem,” said the leader of the agency, Philippe Lazzarini, on social media.

The fire caused extensive damage to the outdoor areas of the compound, Mr. Lazzarini said, but there were no injuries to workers there from UNRWA or other U.N. agencies. He added that some of the workers “had to put out the fire themselves as it took the Israeli fire extinguishers and police a while before they turned up.”

On Friday, Israeli police said in a statement that an investigation was started on “suspicion of a brush fire ignition” next to the UNRWA facility and that preliminary findings suggested it was started by minors and was therefore not subject to criminal prosecution. It offered no further details, but said the investigation was still going on.

The attack put the lives of U.N. staff at “serious risk” and comes two days after protesters threw stones at staff members at the compound, Mr. Lazzarini said.

Protests by Israeli settlers calling for UNRWA’s closure have been continuing for months. “On several occasions, Israeli extremists threatened our staff with guns,” Mr. Lazzarini said in Thursday’s social media post, adding that under international law, it is Israel’s responsibility “as an occupying power to ensure that United Nations personnel and facilities are protected at all times.”

Many Israeli officials have called for years for UNRWA to be dismantled, and the agency lost funding from some donor countries earlier this year after Israel accused a dozen of its employees of being involved in the Hamas-led attack on Israel on Oct. 7. An independent review commissioned by the U.N. and released in April found that Israel had not provided any evidence to support its further accusations that many UNRWA staff members are members of terrorist organizations.


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