UNRWA official visits the agency's headquarters in occupied East Jerusalem

A UNRWA official visits the agency's headquarters in occupied East Jerusalem on May 10, 2024 after an Israeli mob set fire to the perimeter of the building.

(Photo: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images)

UNRWA's East Jerusalem HQ Closed After Arson by Mob of Israeli Extremists

"This is an outrageous development," said the head of the Palestinian refugee agency. "Once again, the lives of U.N. staff were at serious risk."

The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees said Thursday that it was forced to shutter its headquarters in occupied East Jerusalem after a mob of Israeli extremists set fire to the perimeter of the facility, causing significant damage and endangering staffers inside the building.

Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), said late Thursday that the fire was the latest escalation by Israeli extremists who have been protesting outside the UNRWA compound for months, ginned up by the Israeli government's unsubstantiated claims about the agency staffers' ties to terrorist groups.

An independent probe released last month concluded that Israel "has yet to provide supporting evidence" that "a significant number of UNRWA employees are members of terrorist organizations."

In his statement Thursday, Lazzarini said U.N. staffers have "regularly been subjected to harassment and intimidation" and that the East Jerusalem compound "has been seriously vandalized and damaged."

"This is an outrageous development. Once again, the lives of U.N. staff were at serious risk," said Lazzarini. "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."

Attacks on the agency's East Jerusalem headquarters began in February after Arieh King, the far-right deputy mayor of Jerusalem, called on the Netanyahu government to kick the UNRWA "out of Israel and specifically from Jerusalem."

Lazzarini said that demonstrations "became violent" this week when Israeli protesters "threw stones at U.N. staff and at the buildings of the compound."

"On several occasions, Israeli extremists threatened our staff with guns," said Lazzarini. "It is the responsibility of the state of Israel as an occupying power to ensure that United Nations personnel and facilities are protected at all times."

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

Espen Barth Eide, Norway's foreign affairs minister, said Friday that he was "shocked" by the attacks on UNRWA's East Jerusalem headquarters and echoed Lazzarini's call for an investigation.

"As host country, Israel has a duty to protect U.N. personnel and premises at any time. The incidents must be investigated, those responsible must be held accountable. UNRWA is the lifeline for millions of Palestine refugees."

"Forced displacement and military operations in Rafah are worsening an already catastrophic situation. We need a cease-fire now."

Norway was among the nations that did not suspend funding for UNRWA as the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and other Western countries cut off donations to the agency earlier this year following Israel's baseless allegations against the body's employees. UNRWA's chief has accused the Netanyahu government of launching a "concerted campaign" to destroy the agency.

The U.S., historically UNRWA's largest donor, has yet to resume funding for the agency, which is the primary relief organization operating in the Gaza Strip. Legislation that President Joe Biden signed into law last month prohibits U.S. government funding for UNRWA until at least March 2025.

The latest attack on UNRWA's East Jerusalem headquarters came as the agency worked to aid displaced Palestinians in Rafah, the overcrowded city in southern Gaza that Israeli ground forces invaded earlier this week, worsening an already grave humanitarian disaster.

UNRWA wrote in a social media post Friday that it has been forced to close 10 of its 34 medical points in Rafah amid the Israeli military's attack on the city.

"Forced displacement and military operations in Rafah are worsening an already catastrophic situation," the agency said. "We need a cease-fire now."

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