Middle East

Israel: World Vision Gaza boss diverted cash to Hamas

Mohammed Halabi at a court hearing in Israel (04/08/16) Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Halabi is accused of siphoning millions of dollars of aid money to Hamas' military projects

Israel has charged the Gaza head of an international charity with diverting millions of dollars of foreign funds to the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

The Shin Bet security service said about 60% of all funds sent to Gaza by the World Vision charity was being diverted to the Islamist movement.

It said Hamas recruited the charity's head of Gaza operations, Mohammed Halabi, more than a decade ago.

World Vision said it had no reason to believe the allegations were true.

It said it carried out regular audits of its Gaza programmes and was "shocked" by the charges.

"We will carefully review any evidence presented to us and will take appropriate actions based on that evidence," a statement said.

Hamas (either the organisation as a whole or in some cases its military wing) is designated a terrorist group by Israel, the US, EU, and UK among other countries.

A Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, said the group had "no connection to [Mr Halabi] and therefore, all Israeli accusations are void and aim to suppress our people," Reuters news agency reported.

In the wake of the accusations against Mr Halabi, Australia said it was suspending funding to World Vision until investigations into the matter were complete.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Years of conflict have left many in Gaza dependent on international aid

Shin Bet said Mr Halabi was arrested at the Erez border crossing in June and has now been charged with funding terrorism.

It said the aid money he funnelled to Hamas, and to its military wing the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, amounted to about $7.2m (£5.4m) a year.

Mr Halabi set up fictitious projects, including ostensibly to help farmers and disabled people, falsely registered Hamas members as employees, and invented and inflated invoices, siphoning off money to the group, Shin Bet said.

The security service said these funds were used, amongst other things, for the digging of tunnels intended to be used for attacks on Israeli civilian communities, the building of military bases and for the purchase of weapons.

It said one base costing $80,000 was paid for in cash from UK donations.

However, it said there was no evidence that the Christian charity's main office had been aware of Mr Halabi's alleged actions.