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Israeli Demonstrators Torch UNRWA East Jerusalem Compound; 'Extensive' Damage Reported

18:00 May 9 2024 United Nations Relief & Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) HQ Jerusalem

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Photo:
The fire on the perimeter of UNRWA's Jerusalem HQ. Published by Haaretz

Scene. Published by the Palestinian News Agency (WAFA), Haaretz, and IMEMC News

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Police say children likely below the age of criminal responsibility committed the act, and said they'd investigate further as UNRWA demands Israel restore 'proper security'; The agency's chief instructed to shutter the compound, saying its workers' lives are at risk

by Nir Hasson for Haaaretz
May 10, 2024

Israeli right-wing extremists shouted anti-UN slogans as children ignited a brush fire along the perimeter of the UN Refugee Agency (UNRWA) headquarters in Jerusalem, prompting its commissioner-general to shut down the compound.

The arson attack caused "extensive damage to the outdoor areas," according to UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini, but no one was hurt.

A video released Thursday evening shows the field just inside the perimeter fence on fire in several places, as a crowd can be heard singing in Hebrew, "Let the UN burn down," and "UNRWA is Hamas."

Police officials say that the ones suspected of setting the fires are children who are probably below the age of criminal responsibility, and that the investigation is ongoing.

Lazzarini wrote on his X account on Thursday, "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."

In recent months, since the Israeli army publicly alleged that a handful of UNRWA workers had participated in the October 7 attacks, the UNRWA headquarters has become the target of extremist right-wing protesters, who have regularly held demonstrations outside the compound in Jerusalem. One of the protest leaders, far-right Deputy Mayor Arieh King, welcomed the closing of the offices, but said that he opposes any form of arson.

In his post, Lazzarini wrote: "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. While there were no casualties among our staff, the fire caused extensive damage to the outdoor areas. Lazzarini noted that the fire was very dangerous because the "headquarters has on its grounds a petrol and diesel station for the Agency's fleet of cars."

He added, "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."

"This is an outrageous development," Lazzarini continued. "Once again, the lives of UN staff were at a serious risk. 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."

He noted, "This week, the protest became violent when demonstrators threw stones at UN staff and at the buildings of the compound." He also wrote: "Over the past months, UN staff have regularly been subjected to harassment and intimidation. Our compound has been seriously vandalized and damaged. On several occasions, Israeli extremists threatened our staff with guns."

Lazzarini stressed, "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."

Deputy Mayor King commented: "I have no idea what happened. If it was arson, I oppose it because we should secure the closure of UNRWA in Jerusalem through legal means. However, I welcome the decision to close the offices, and I hope that this is only the first step toward ending all UNRWA activity in the city."

In Jerusalem, UNRWA is active in the Shoafat Refugee Camp, supplying many services including cleaning, educational and health services. The facility next to Ammunition Hill is the UNRWA headquarters for the entire West Bank. The agency is one of the largest employers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

After Israel accused UNRWA workers of participating in the October 7 attack, many countries halted funding the agency. However, almost all of those countries have resumed funding in recent months. Israeli officials have admitted that the campaign to tarnish UNRWA's reputation among donor nations has failed. Three weeks ago, Catherine Colonna, the former French foreign affairs minister, whom the UN had appointed to assess UNRWA activity, issued the final report of the independent review and wrote that "Israel has yet to provide supporting evidence" that "a significant number of UNRWA employees are members of terrorist organizations.

The Israel Police commented: "The police opened an investigation yesterday on suspicion of igniting a brush fire (located outside the UNRWA headquarters in Jerusalem.) The police investigation found that in fact it was caused by minor children, who are probably below the age of criminal responsibility as set by law. The investigation continues."
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WAFA: Outrageous arson attack forces UNRWA to temporarily close its headquarters in Jerusalem

by IMEMC News
May 10, 2024

JERUSALEM, Friday, May 10, 2024 (WAFA) – The head of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has decided to temporarily close the Agency’s headquarters in occupied Jerusalem after an arson attack by extremist Israeli settlers in the vicinity of the premises following weeks of protests.

Posting on social media, Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said “Israeli residents set fire twice to the perimeter” on Thursday evening. UNRWA personnel and staff from other UN agencies were inside the compound at the time.

“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.

This marked “the second appalling incident in less than a week” following a similar violent protest on Tuesday.

While there were no casualties among UNRWA staff, the fire caused extensive damage to the outdoor areas, he said, noting that a petrol and diesel station is on the grounds to service the agency’s fleet of cars.

A crowd accompanied by armed Israeli settlers were witnessed outside the compound chanting “burn down the United Nations,” he added.

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

Lazzarini said he has taken the decision to close down the compound “until proper security is restored”.

Israeli extremists have been staging protests outside the UNRWA compound in Jerusalem over the past two months “called by an elected member of the Jerusalem municipality.”

He noted that Tuesday’s protest had turned violent when demonstrators threw stones at UN staff and at the buildings, “under the watch of the Israeli police.”

“Over the past months, UN staff have regularly been subjected to harassment and intimidation. Our compound has been seriously vandalized and damaged. On several occasions, Israeli extremists threatened our staff with guns,” he said.

The UNRWA chief stressed that it is the responsibility of Israel as the occupying power to ensure that UN 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 said. “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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