Bethlehem, 07 Dzulqa’dah 1437/10 August 2016 (MINA) – The Israeli government accused a Palestinian employee of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Gaza on Tuesday of diverting funds to the Hamas movement, nearly a week after it announced Israeli forces had detained a Palestinian NGO worker on similar grounds, Ma’an reported.
The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Tuesday that it had contacted the United Nations over the detention of a Palestinian engineer employed by UNDP and his indictment “on charges of using his position to assist the Hamas terrorist organization.”
“Israel has informed these officials of its expectation that the UN, and especially its aid agencies, will unequivocally condemn Hamas for exploiting the humanitarian aid system for its own aims and will take concrete measures to ensure that humanitarian activities actually assist those in need in Gaza instead of assisting the terrorist leaders of Hamas,” the statement added.
In a statement released later on Tuesday afternoon, Israeli Director-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Dore Gold stated that the suspected UNDP employee was a “humanitarian aid worker” who was detained for providing “material assistance” to Hamas.
UNDP issued a statement on Tuesday afternoon identifying the employee as contractor Waheed al-Bursh, who Israel has accused of transporting 300 tons of rubble he was handling as part of a UNDP rubble disposal project to a Hamas-run facility.
UNDP has reportedly removed more than one million tons of rubble since the 2014 war in Gaza.
UNDP Special Representative of the Administrator Roberto Valent said he was “greatly concerned” by the allegation.
“UNDP is committed to the highest standards of transparency and accountability and therefore in light of this development, UNDP is conducting a thorough internal review of the processes and circumstances surrounding the allegation,” Valent said, emphasizing that al-Bursh “should be accorded all due legal process and has the right to a fair trial.”
The Hamas movement vehemently denied Israeli claims that it had received funding or assistance from a UNDP employee.
“These Israeli allegations are invalid and untrue, and they are part of Israel’s plan to reinforce the siege on the Gaza Strip by going after international organizations working in Gaza,” Hamas senior spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said on Tuesday.
He called on the international community to intervene to stop these Israeli actions, saying they would have “dangerous consequences.”
Part of a broader clampdown on NGOs in Gaza?
On Thursday, Israel announced that Muhammad al-Halabi, the head of the Gaza office of Christian NGO World Vision who was detained at a border crossing in June, was being charged with siphoning off funds from the organization to Hamas.
In a statement at the time, Gold had claimed that al-Halabi had diverted 60 percent of World Vision’s annual budget for the Gaza Strip to Hamas, calling him a “major figure in the Hamas terrorist organization.”
Hamas also denied involvement with al-Halabi, with Hamas spokesman Abd al-Latif Qanou saying at the time that the World Vision employee “had no relation with Hamas of any kind.”
“The investigation revealed much information concerning additional figures in the Gaza Strip who exploited their work in humanitarian aid organizations and UN institutions on behalf of Hamas,” Gold added at the time, raising fears that more Palestinian aid workers in Gaza would be detained and accused of working with Hamas.
World Vision immediately reacted to Israel’s announcement, saying on Thursday that “based on the information available to us at this time, we have no reason to believe that the allegations are true.
World Vision expressed “shock” at the allegations against al-Halabi and said on Monday that it had suspended its operations in Gaza and was conducting a full external review of its finances.
However, the group said it had still “not seen any of the evidence” corroborating Israel’s claims, and cast doubts over the credibility of some the the Israeli government’s assertions, as claims emerged that al-Halabi was tortured into confessing the charges now levied against him.
“World Vision’s cumulative operating budget in Gaza for the past ten years was approximately $22.5 million, which makes the alleged amount of up to $50 million being diverted hard to reconcile,” the organization said in its statement, adding that it went through rigorous background checks when hiring employees.
“It is tragic that this issue is taking us away from our work on important issues of injustice and poverty affecting billions of children around the world,” the NGO added. (T/R07/R01)
Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA)