Hamas Denies Israeli Accusations of Using Foreign Aid Money

Palestinian officials don't interfere with aid groups' activities in Gaza, militant group says, after charges brought against two aid workers in Israel.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Palestinians hold posters of Mohammed el-Halabi, the Gaza director of World Vision, during a protest to support him in Gaza City, August 7, 2016.
Palestinians hold posters of Mohammed el-Halabi, the Gaza director of World Vision, during a protest to support him in Gaza City, August 7, 2016.Credit: Mahmud Hams/AFP
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Hamas’ foreign ministry in Gaza denied Israel’s accusation that two employees of international aid NGOs in the Strip had embezzled funds and goods for the organization. 

“The international and foreign organizations have been working in the Gaza Strip for years and no Palestinian official interferes with their activity and budget,” the ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

“On the contrary, the Gaza Strip authorities facilitate their work. The Israeli allegations are not new to the Palestinian people or the international NGOs. They are part of the occupation policy, to distort the Gaza Strip’s image and justify the collective punishment and closure,” the statement said. 

The two aid workers are World Vision's Gaza office head, Mohammad El Halabi, and an employee of the UN Development Program in Gaza, Wahid Bursh.

Last week, Israel charged El Halabi with funneling money to Hamas fighters and buying weapons. More than 7 million dollars a year, or 60 percent of the annual budget for World Vision's Gaza branch, was diverted to Hamas by El Halabi, according to the Shin Bet press release.

Following the charges, Australia suspended funding to World Vision projects in the Palestinian territories, while Germany's Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) said it had indefinitely frozen payments totaling $1.66 million dollars (1.5 million euros) to the Christian charity.

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

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.