Israel Claims UN Aid Official Abused Position to Help Hamas

Wahid Bursh, a 38-year-old from Gaza, allegedly abused his power to help Hamas attain arms, Shin Bet says, in second case of aid worker allegedly helping Gaza group.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Palestinians receiving aid in Gaza, on bottom-right Wahid Bursh.
Palestinians receiving aid in Gaza, on bottom-right Wahid Bursh.Credit: Reuters / Shin Bet
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

A Gazan official of the United Nations Development Program has been arrested by Israel for allegedly abusing his post to support Hamas, Israel's Shin Bet security service claimed on Tuesday.

According to the Shin Bet statement, Wahid Bursh, a 38-year-old from the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza, was arrested last month for different activities the agency describes as being supportive of Hamas.

Palestinian schoolgirls walk past the rubble of a house destroyed during the 2014 war, in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip, April 12, 2015.Credit: Reuters

The indictment filed against Bursh in a Be'er Sheva court accuses him of aiding the terror group.

The Shin Bet claims that in 2014 Bursh was instructed by Hamas to apply for an engineer position at the UN Development Program in charge of renovating houses damaged during conflict with Israel.

According to the Shin Bet, Bursh abused his power to help Hamas, either by renovating their houses or informing them of such renovations when they held benefit for the group. For example, he allegedly informed Hamas that armaments or tunnel entrances were found in homes under the UNDP's authority so that the group could commandeer the site, in clear contradiction of the UN organization's mandate. The Shin Bet also accuses Bursh of creating a makeshift jetty in Gaza for Hamas using UN resources.

"The investigation," the Shin Bet said, "exemplifies the manner in which Hamas takes advantage of international aid agencies' resources, intended to serve as humanitarian aid for Gaza's civilian population."

Palestinian Hamas militants, in the east of Gaza City January 31, 2016. Credit: Reuters

Israel's Foreign Ministry informed the United Nations a number of days ago of his arrest. The ministry's spokesman, Emmanuel Nahshon, said the head of the UNDP was informed, alongside officials from the office of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and that Israel demanded an inquiry into the incident and a clear condemnation of Hamas.

The UNDP said in response that it has "zero tolerance for wrongdoing in all of its programs and projects," adding that "is conducting a thorough internal review of the processes and circumstances surrounding the allegation."

The statement added that the "rubble removal project was established to respond to the consequences of the 2014 hostilities in Gaza" and that "the allegations concerning Mr. Al Bursh by the Israeli authorities refer to 300 tons of the more than one million tons removed, or 7 truckloads out of a total of nearly 26,000." According to the UNDP, "the rubble removal project is considered essential for the recovery and reconstruction of Gaza following the conflict."

"These (allegations) are par for the course of an Israeli plot to restrict the work of international relief agencies operating in Gaza in order to tighten the Gaza blockade," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.

UNDP works in Gaza as part of a special program oriented at helping the local Palestinian population. According to its website, UNDP is the UN's global development network and it advocates sustainable development and inclusive economic growth. Thus, for example, the website touts its work with local farmers to export strawberries to the EU or projects to build solar panels on the roofs of Gaza schools to deal with frequent power outages.

This is the second such incident revealed by the Shin Bet this week. On Thursday, a top official of the Christian aid group World Vision was indicted for similar charges after the Shin Bet said he had funneled tens of millions of dollars to Hamas' military wing.

The charge sheet states that Mohammed el-Halabi, director of World Vision's Gaza branch, joined Hamas's armed wing Izzedin al-Qassam in 2004 and was asked a year later to infiltrate a humanitarian organization. World Vision has denied the charges, saying that the sums Halabi is accused of funneling to Hamas far surpass the organization's actual budget for the past decade.

A Palestinian man carries boxes given to him as aid containing sanitation kits and soap at a UN school on August 15, 2014 in Gaza City.Credit: AFP

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