UNRWA says it has closed its East Jerusalem headquarters after fires and attacks

The main U.N. agency helping Palestinians, known as UNRWA, said Thursday it had temporarily closed its headquarters in 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 agency's leader, Philippe Lazzarini, on social media. The fire caused extensive damage to the complex's outdoor areas, Lazzarini said, but no workers from UNRWA or other United Nations agencies were injured. He added that some workers “had to put out the fire themselves as it took some time for the Israeli fire extinguishers and police to arrive.”

The attack put the lives of UN staff at “serious risk” and occurred two days later protesters threw stones to staff members at the complex, Mr. Lazzarini said.

Protests by Israeli settlers demanding the closure of UNRWA have continued for months. “On several occasions, Israeli extremists have threatened our personnel with weapons,” Lazzarini said in Thursday's social media post. He added that, under international law, it is Israel's responsibility “as the occupying power to ensure that United Nations personnel and facilities are protected at all times.”

Many Israeli officials have called for the dismantling of UNRWA for years, 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 attack led by Hamas against Israel on October 7. An independent review commissioned by the United Nations and published in April found that Israel had provided no evidence to support its further allegations that many UNRWA staff were members of terrorist organizations.

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