Headquarters of the US-based Christian NGO World Vision in Gaza CityImage: Getty Images/M.Abed
Aid bound for Gazans allegedly diverted to Hamas
August 4, 2016
Israel's security agency says a trained Hamas militant set up an elaborate scheme to divert the funds. It's unclear whether the man has a lawyer, or how he might plead when his case comes before a judge.
Israeli officials have charged the local director of an international aid organization in the Gaza Strip with diverting millions of dollars in aid money to the Islamist militant group Hamas.
Mohammed el-Halabi became the local director for World Vision, a US-based Christian aid group, in 2010. Israel's security agency, Shin Bet, is accusing el-Halabi of establishing a "systematic and sophisticated mechanism" to siphon off more than $50 million (45 million euros) since 2010 - an amount equal to about 60 percent of the local group's annual budget.
An Israeli security official told journalists on Thursday that el-Halabi siphoned off more than $7 million per year from funds intended for Gaza's poor.
Israel said the charges were proof that Hamas did not respect the neutrality of aid agencies.
"This money was intended for construction projects, financial aid and even food donations for Gazans in need," Major General Yoav Mordechai, head of the military body that coordinates Israeli activities in the West Bank and Gaza, said in a statement. "Hamas stole this money and passed it to its military wing to build bases, provide salary bonuses and dig tunnels."
Israel accuses el-Halabi of creating fictitious humanitarian projects and doctoring inflated receipts in order to get the funds to Hamas.
Accusation shocks World Vision
World Vision said it was "shocked" by the allegations, saying in a statement that it had regular internal and independent audits and evaluations, as well as a broad range of internal controls designed to ensure that aid reached its intended beneficiaries.
"Based on the information available to us at this time, we have no reason to believe that the allegations are true," the statement said. "We will carefully review any evidence presented to us and will take appropriate actions based on that evidence."
El-Halabi reportedly confessed to the scheme, but it is not clear how he will plead in court, or even if he has been assigned a lawyer. He was arrested in mid-June as he crossed the border from Israel into Gaza. Until now Israel had maintained a gag order on the case.
Israel said el-Halabi had undergone military training under Hamas, and that he had been under extended surveillance since 2010. Security officials say another $80,000 went to build a military base for Hamas.
Some of the money he is accused of taking reportedly went to arm insurgents in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, which also borders Israel.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, speaking in Gaza, rejected the allegations. He said the group had "no connection to (el-Halabi) and therefore, all Israeli accusations are void and aim to suppress our people."
Hamas also denies any links to insurgents in the Sinai.