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UNRWA to close East Jerusalem headquarters after arson attack by ‘Israeli extremists’

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The United Nations’ agency for Palestinian refugees will shutter its East Jerusalem headquarters after the compound was set on fire by “Israeli extremists” while staff were inside, its chief said Thursday.

In a statement on social platform X, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said the arson attack was the latest in a series of threats, harassment and violent incidents perpetrated by Israelis against the agency’s staff over the past two months.

“This evening, Israeli residents set fire twice to the perimeter of the UNRWA Headquarters in occupied East Jerusalem. This took place while UNRWA and other UN Agencies’ staff were on the compound,” Lazzarini said.

“It is an outrageous development. Once again, the lives of UN staff were at a serious risk.”

The facility would be closed “until proper security is restored,” he added.

Lazzarini posted a video of the compound showing staff trying to extinguish the flames while people chanted outside, and said that a crowd accompanied by armed men were witnessed outside the compound shouting, “Burn down the United Nations.”

Several social media videos were also posted on Israeli Telegram platforms on Thursday showing the UNRWA compound on fire. In one video, the repeated chant “UNWRA is Hamas, UNWRA is Hamas,” could be heard.

Lazzarini said the fire caused “extensive damage to the outdoor areas.” There were no casualties among UN staff, he added.

Israel’s relations with the UN have sunk to a historic low in recent months, with senior UN officials highly critical of Israel’s war conduct in Gaza.

Israeli officials have long criticized UNRWA, which plays a central role in feeding and sheltering hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees. UNRWA has repeatedly denied Israeli allegations that its aid is being diverted to Hamas or that it teaches hatred in its schools, and has questioned “the motivation of those who make such claims.” The agency has condemned the Hamas attack on October 7 as “abhorrent.”

In March, UNRWA accused Israel of detaining and torturing some of its staffers, coercing them into making false confessions about the agency’s ties to Hamas, two months after Israel accused at least 12 UNRWA staffers of being involved in the October 7 terrorist attacks.

Israel has also alleged that about 12% of UNRWA’s 13,000 staffers are members of Hamas or other Palestinian militant groups, leading more than a dozen countries to suspend funding to the agency. UNRWA said it had fired 10 of the 12 accused staffers and that the other two are dead.

On Thursday, Lazzarini said it was Israel’s responsibility to ensure the safety of UN personnel.

“I call on all those who have influence to put an end to these attacks and hold all those responsible accountable,” he wrote on X. “The perpetrators of these attacks must be investigated and those responsible must be held accountable. Anything less will set a new dangerous standard.”

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