UNRWA closes East Jerusalem office after arson attacks News
RomanDeckert, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
UNRWA closes East Jerusalem office after arson attacks

The United Nationals Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) closed its East Jerusalem office on Friday amidst two arson attacks from Israeli extremists. The closure follows scrutiny of the UNRWA due to its investigations into Israeli allegations that UNRWA staff were involved in the October 7 Hamas attacks.

In a press release on Thursday, UNRWA Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini said that the arson took place while staff were in the building. However, it is confirmed that there were no causalities although there was damage to the vicinities. According to the statement, there was a crowd gathered outside the buildings chanting “[B]urn down the United Nations.” Lazzarini posted video footage capturing the arson attacks on X (Formerly Twitter).

Lazzarini stated:

This is an outrageous development. 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. Over the past two months, Israeli extremists have been staging protests outside the UNRWA compound in Jerusalem, called by an elected member of the Jerusalem municipality … Over the past months, UN staff have regularly been subjected to harassment and intimidation. Our compound has been seriously vandalized and damaged.

A UNRWA staff member and eyewitness to the attacks, Mr. Fowler, stated that people were gathering in protest with sticks and stones while “the police were just kind of there in the background.” He recalled the growing tensions throughout the past months and “intimidation” from protestors and extremists.

The Office of Internal Oversight Services is currently investigating the Israeli allegations against UNRWA staff members. The allegations have led to funding bans from several countries, which has impacted the UNRWA financially. However, the EU has resumed its funding and increased its emergency support after an initial pause in light of the allegations.

The UN said that while it has temporarily closed its office, the UNRWA staff will continue to carry out its work remotely.

Fowler commented:

It complicates our functioning at a time when of course, we should be fully focused on the unprecedented levels of violence in the West Bank and, it goes without saying, the enormous, unprecedented level of humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip … We are proud of our work … We do it because we have a mandate from the United Nations system to do something. Until such time as that mandate no longer exists, we’re not going anywhere, whatever anybody might like to say”.