Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Jerusalem: UNRWA headquarters shut down after Israeli settler violence and arson

Photo: AFP

On Thursday, a group of Israeli settlers attacked the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) headquarters in East Jerusalem multiple times, setting fire to the building’s outside.

Wafa news agency reported that the settlers set fire to grass and trees on the building’s plot in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.

Citing witnesses, the news site stated that UNRWA employees  at the headquarters  attempted to extinguish the fire and prevent it from spreading. According to Wafa, Israeli security personnel were allegedly present at the location but did nothing to stop the settlers from  their aggression.

UNRWA sources said that although there were no injuries recorded, the fire severely damaged the building.

With this incident, Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner general of UNRWA, said that he has decided to shut down the compound, due to the threatening security risk faced by the staff members of the UN agency.

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

A viral video footage shared on social media shows the building surrounded by fire, with a group of settlers accompanied by armed men cheering and chanting “Burn down the United Nations”  in the background.

The fire was  put out by the director and the staff themselves as the police and fire extinguishers took time to reach the spot. 

This is the second attack on the UNRWA office by the settlers in a week. Just two days ago, on Tuesday,  a group of settlers attacked the same Unrwa headquarters.

Lazzarini has sought an official investigation, saying that UN staff, property, and operations “should be protected at all times in line with international law”.

State-sponsored violence in the West Bank

On October 7, Israel launched a genocidal war on Gaza claiming to be in ‘defence’ against the Hamas operations. Since then, the brutal onslaught has destroyed civilian infrastructure in the enclave and killed around 35,000 Palestinians.

Attacks by far-right Israeli settlers on Palestinians residing in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem have parallelly escalated over this period.

Israeli military reservists, 5,500 of whom have a criminal record of violence against Palestinians, have been recruited by Israel’s military since October and placed in “regional defence” battalions in the West Bank.

According to Israeli rights organisations and Haaretz, 7,000 guns have also been given by Israeli authorities to battalion members and other individuals, including “civilian security squads” set up in settlements.

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