UN Palestinian aid agency says Israelis set fire to headquarters

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) chief said that Israelis twice set fire to the perimeter of the agency’s headquarters in East Jerusalem on Thursday. 

UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said that both UNRWA and other U.N. agency staff were present when the incidents happened. 

He said no casualties occurred among U.N. staff, but the fires caused “extensive” damage to the compound’s outdoor area. 

“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,” Lazzarini said in a Thursday post on the social media platform X. 

Lazzarini said the compound will be closed “until proper security is restored.” 

The U.N. confirmed the incident on X, writing, “Humanitarians are #NotATarget.”

Israel has criticized UNRWA in recent months, accusing some of the UNRWA’s staff of being involved in the Oct. 7 terrorist attack on southern Israel that killed around 1,200 Israelis. 

An independent report, released in April, did not find that UNRWA was compromised by outside groups or had systemic neutrality failure. Former French Foreign Affairs Minister Catherine Colonna, who led the probe, said the agency has “room for improvement” and does have some neutrality issues, but the mechanisms of the agency are “elaborate.” 

UNRWA has been an essential resource for Palestinians in Gaza as the agency provides food, shelter, medicine and other supplies. 

Lazzarini stated that “Israeli extremists” have been protesting at the compound for the past two months. This week, the protest was “violent,” and stones were thrown at U.N. staff. 

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

“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,” he said. 

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