Israel Charges Gaza Head of Turkish Humanitarian Group With Aiding Hamas

Muhammad Murtaja was arrested and charged in an Israeli court with planning to provide Hamas with satellite photos to improve the precision of its rocket strikes against Israel.

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Muhammad Murtaja, the Palestinian director the Gaza branch of a Turkish humanitarian aid organization.
Muhammad Murtaja, the Palestinian director the Gaza branch of a Turkish humanitarian aid organization.Credit: Courtesy of Shin Bet

Muhammad Murtaja, a Palestinian resident of Gaza who serves as director of a local humanitarian aid organization for the government of Turkey, was put on trial in Israel on Tuesday, charged with working for the military wing of Hamas.

Murtaja, was arrested last month trying to enter Israel. Israel’s Shin Bet security service accused Murtaja — the director of the Gaza branch of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (Tika) — of undergoing Hamas military training, including making explosive devices and storing weapons, such as hand grenades and rifles, in his home.. The security service alleges that while supposedly on his way to Israel for a training session by the Turkish organization, he was in fact going to obtain information that would assist Hamas “to improve the precision of rockets fired at Israel.”

The indictment asserts that Murtaja left Gaza for Israel at the request of the Hamas military wing and was planning to go to Turkey to obtain maps and photos from a Turkish satellite. According to the charge sheet, presented in Be'er Sheva District Court on Tuesday, Murtaja was told by an operative in Hamas' military wing that during the 2014 conflict with Israel, Hamas relied on Google Earth maps to aim its rockets and that they were not sufficiently accurate, managing to hit the target only about 10 percent of the time.

Israeli security forces intercepted Murtaja on his way to Turkey.

Shin Bet officials say that the Turkish aid organization had no idea what Murtaja was really doing. He deceived Tika in order to divert millions of shekels worth of benefits and equipment, meant for humanitarian projects in Gaza, to Hamas members both during the 2014 conflict with Israel and afterwards.

Rockets being fired from the Gaza strip into Israel, on July 13, 2014. War or terrorism?Credit: AFP

Israel informed Turkey of the details of the indictment before lifting a gag order on Murtaja’s arrest. A senior official in the Foreign Ministry director general’s office said that the Turkish ambassador to Israel, Kemal Okem, was briefed on the details. The senior official noted that the Israelis made clear to the Turkish envoy that Israel wanted to brief the Turkish government before lifting the gag order and before the affair would become public.

Meanwhile, the Israeli ambassador in Ankara, Eitan Naeh, gave a briefing on Tuesday morning in the Turkish foreign ministry on the details of the affair. According to the senior official, the Turks asked Israel several weeks ago about Murtaja’s arrest, but that it was still not possible to provide them with details at the time. “The Turks were surprised that we informed them today, but thanked us for apprising them in advance,” said the senior official.

The Shin Bet announced that its investigation had also revealed that another Turkish group, the IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation, helped directly fund the activity of the military wing of Hamas. The IHH organized the 2010 flotilla to Gaza in which nine Turkish citizens were killed in a clash with the Israeli navy. In 2009 Israel declared that group a terrorist organization because of its support of Hamas. According to the Shin Bet, the IHH funneled funds to Hamas that were used to build a facility for training its naval commando force in Gaza and to acquire fighting equipment. In the indictment Murtaja is accused of giving products he received from IHH to Hamas operatives.

“This investigation concretizes the various methods of fraud Hamas engages in regarding the international community and humanitarian aid organizations,” the Shin Bet statement asserted. Hamas spokesman Fauzi Barhum said of Murtaja’s arrest that Israel “continues lying and making up cases against activists and civil organization heads and international activists in the Gaza Strip.” He added, “It is a cruel Israeli campaign whose goal is to hurt those organizations and to tighten the siege of Gaza.”

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