May 9, 2024 - World

UN aid agency says Israelis set fire to its East Jerusalem headquarters

Philippe Lazzarini, (L) director of the UN agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) speaks with Lynn Hastings, ( far R) the UN humanitarian coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territories on May 23,2021 in Gaza City

UNWRA chief Philippe Lazzarini in May 2021 in Gaza City. Photo: Laurent Van der Stockt/Getty Images

The head of the UN Palestinian refugee agency announced Thursday that Israelis had twice set fire to the perimeter of the agency's headquarters in East Jerusalem.

Why it matters: Although there were no casualties among UN staff, the fires resulted in "extensive damage" to the compound's outdoor areas, Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency wrote on X.

  • Lazzarini said the compound will be closed "until proper security is restored."

The big picture: "This is an outrageous development. Once again, the lives of UN staff were at a serious risk," Lazzarini wrote.

  • He noted both UNRWA and other UN staff were at the headquarters at the time of the fires.
  • Lazzarini added that "Israeli extremists" had been regularly staging protests outside the UNRWA compound over the past two months and staff have been harassed, intimidated and even threatened with guns.
  • A crowd of Israelis had gathered in front of the compound Thursday and chanted, "burn down the United Nations," he added.

What they're saying: "UN staff, premises and operations should be protected at all times in line with international law," Lazzarini wrote, adding Israel was responsible for ensuring that protection.

State of play: In the wake of Hamas' Oct. 7 attack, Israel alleged that members of UNRWA staff in Gaza are members of Hamas. A UN-appointed independent commission of inquiry said last month that Israel had provided no evidence to back up the claim.

  • UNRWA has been the main organization delivering humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza for decades.

Go deeper: Report says Israel hasn't proved alleged widespread UNRWA staff links to Hamas

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