East Jerusalem Unrwa office to close after attack

The agency’s director accused protesters of setting two fires at the site


An Israeli protester holds an Israeli flag and a sign while standing with others gathering outside the Jerusalem Unrwa office (Photo: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Israelis chanting “burn down the United Nations” set fire to the east Jerusalem headquarters of the supranational body’s Palestinian refugee agency.

Philippe Lazzarini, the head of Unrwa, said he had decided to temprarily close the office until proper security was restored.

"This is an outrageous development. Once again, the lives of UN staff were at a serious risk,” he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

"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.”

According to Lazzarini, a crowd accompanied by armed men gathered outside the east Jerusalem compound. 

Two fires started by demonstrators caused “extensive damage” but no casualties. 

Lazzarini wrote: “UN staff, premises and operations should be protected at all times in line with international law.

"I call on all those who have influence to put an end to these attacks and hold all those responsible accountable.

“The perpetrators of these attacks must be investigated and those responsible must be held accountable. Anything less will set a new dangerous standard.”

Jerusalem’s deputy mayor, Aryeh King, has recently joined demonstrations against the UN body.

Earlier this week, he told an Israeli broadcaster: “It is an honour to be responsible for the closure of the centre of the Nazi and antisemitic enemy within Jerusalem.”

Anger has grown within Israel towards Unrwa following claims that members of the agency’s staff participated in the October 7 attack.

The Israeli government said earlier this year that over a dozen employees took part in the Hamas-led raid, which saw hundreds of civilians murdered and others kidnapped.

In response to the accusations, more than a dozen countries cut around $450 million of funding to Unrwa.

Last month, however, following a review of the body’s neutrality policies, Germany resumed funding. 

The agency has a “vital and currently irreplaceable role in providing for the people in Gaza”, they said.

In a statement released when funding was cut, Oxfam said: "We are shocked by the reckless decision to cut a lifeline for an entire population by some of the very countries that had called for aid in Gaza to be stepped up and for humanitarians to be protected while doing their job.”

Jewish community leaders welcomed the decision, though, with the Board of Deputies praising the British government’s decision to pause their support.

A spokesman said: “There have been significant worries for decades regarding the activity of Unrwa employees; their incitement of antisemitism and their promotion of terror — and for decades Unrwa’s leadership has dismissed such fears.

"It is clear that far stronger oversight of this agency is desperately needed.”

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