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Israel charges NGO head with funnelling millions to Hamas

Shin Bet says Mohammed Halabi, of Christian relief group World Vision, funded group and military wing to tune of $50m
A Hamas militant in Gaza in April 2016 (AFP)

Israel has charged the head of a major international NGO in Gaza with diverting millions of dollars in foreign funding to Hamas and its military wing.

The Shin Bet internal security service said that the head of international charity World Vision in Gaza had funnelled more than $7m to Hamas each year, with some of it being used to fund the rulers of the besieged territory's military campaign against Israel.

On Thursday, the Shin Bet, revealed it had arrested Mohammed Halabi in June and had since charged him with the transfers. It says he oversaw the transfer of up to $50m since 2010 to Hamas.

World Vision is the world’s largest evangelical Christian charity and has operated in Israel and the occupied territories for more than 40 years. In a statement on Thursday it said it had "no reason to believe" the claim by Israel. "Based on the information available to us at this time, we have no reason to belive that the allegations are true," the statement said.

However, Shin Bet said Hamas has used funds diverted from the charity by Halabi to build tunnels, construct military posts and to purchase arms.

The agency says Halabi used a “systematic and sophisticated mechanism” to siphon off funds that included submitting inflated receipts and falsely listing Hamas operatives as workers on World Vision projects.

It says World Vision humanitarian aid to Gaza was largely diverted to Hamas operatives and their families.

According to website Christian Today, Halabi was detained on 15 June at the Erez checkpoint on his way home from a routine meeting and has been held since without access to legal counsel or family visits.

He was charged with a number of offences, including "funding terror", though Shin Bet said there was no evidence that World Vision's head office was aware of his actions. World Vision works with the United Nations on several of its projects in Palestine, where it provides support to around 90,000 people in Gaza.

Shin Bet said there was evidence that Halabi was recuited by Hamas more than a decade agao, while court documents seen by AFP said he funded Hamas with around $7.2m a year, including roughly $1.5m to the group's combat units.

On Thursday, Israel’s Foreign Ministry attacked World Vision on Twitter for failing to notice that its Palestinian manager was transferring such large sums of money to Hamas. “How negligent can you be?!” asked Emmanuel Nahshon.

In an earlier statement released on Tuesday on Halabi's detention, World Vision said it stood by its employee who was a “widely respected and well regarded humanitarian, field manager and trusted colleague of over a decade”.

Since 2008, Israel has fought three wars with Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organisation by Israel, the United States, the UK and the European Union.

Israeli officials said the charges against Halabi were proof that Hamas did not respect the independence of aid agencies. 

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.