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Israel settlers twice set fire to perimeter of UNRWA in East Jerusalem

May 10, 2024 at 9:21 am

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said yesterday that Israeli settlers twice set fire to the perimeter of its headquarters in occupied East Jerusalem.

“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,” UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said on X.

While there were no casualties among the staff, the fire caused extensive damage to the outdoor areas, Lazzarini noted.

“Our director with the help of other staff had to put out the fire themselves as it took the Israeli fire extinguishers and police a while before they turned up,” he said.

“A crowd accompanied by armed men were witnessed outside the compound chanting ‘Burn down the United Nations.’

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

Lazzarini announced that “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 latest incident marked the second attack on UNRWA’s headquarters in East Jerusalem in less than two days.

Right-wing groups staged protests outside the UNRWA office in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem on Tuesday evening to call for its closure.

Read: UN Refugee Agency condemns ‘intimidation’ by Israeli right-wingers

UNRWA has been facing Israeli pressure over unproven allegations that some of the agency’s staff were involved in the 7 October infiltration into Israeli towns by Palestinian resistance groups.

The UN agency was created by the UN General Assembly more than 70 years ago to assist Palestinians who were forcibly displaced from their land.

The agency provides crucial support to millions of Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip, West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and other areas where large numbers of registered Palestinians live.

Israel has long  lobbied to have UNRWA closed as it is the only UN agency to have a specific mandate to look after the basic needs of Palestinian refugees. If the agency no longer exists, argues Israel, then the refugee issue must no longer exist, and the legitimate right for Palestinian refugees to return to their land will be unnecessary. Israel has denied that right of return since the late 1940s, even though its own membership of the UN was made conditional upon Palestinian refugees being allowed to return to their homes and land.