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Gaza: Israel sentences World Vision former chief for 'aiding Hamas'

Halabi, arrested in 2016, had served as the Gaza director for the US-based evangelical Christian humanitarian aid and advocacy group
Palestinians walk next to a poster of Mohammed al-Halabi, the Gaza former director of Christian humanitarian charity World Vision, 12 January 2017 (AFP)
Palestinians pass a poster of Mohammed al-Halabi, the former Gaza director of Christian humanitarian charity World Vision, 12 January 2017 (AFP)

Israel sentenced a former Palestinian employer in the US humanitarian group World Vision to 12 years in prison, accusing him of funnelling funds to the Hamas group in the Gaza Strip.

Mohammed al-Halabi was sentenced to 12 years in prison by an Israeli court in Beersheba on Tuesday, accusing him of siphoning off millions of US dollars and providing tonnes of steel to Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.

Halabi denied any wrongdoing, while his lawyer claimed that he was innocent of these accusations.

World Vision is a US-based evangelical Christian humanitarian aid and advocacy group in which Halabi served as Gaza director.

In 2016, Halabi was arrested and indicted on charges of aiding Hamas, which has fought several wars with Israel since it held the enclave's authority in 2007 after winning a majority in the Palestinian legislative elections.

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His lawyer, Maher Hanna, told the media on Tuesday that Halabi is "innocent, he did nothing and there is no evidence. On the contrary, he proved in the court above any reasonable doubt that he made sure that no money would be given directly to Hamas."

Hanna said that Halabi was offered to be released from Israeli detention if he admitted to wrongdoing, something he refused to do.

"He insisted that truth also has value. And for his personal values and for the international humanitarian work values, he insisted on the truth, and he cannot admit a thing that he did not do," Hanna said.

Halabi is planning to appeal against the sentence in Israel's supreme court.

'Deeply disappointing'

Moran Guez, Israel's southern district attorney, told reporters that "these are very severe deeds, the defendant funded terror with millions of shekels, helped strengthen the Hamas tunnel network".

"We asked for 16 to 21 years prison. We'll read the sentencing and consider our actions," she said.

Besides funnelling money to Hamas, Halabi was also accused of being a group member, possessing a weapon and espionage.

However, much of the evidence against him remained secret, as Israel's district attorney cited "security concerns" if it was made public, instigating Halabi's legal team to question the ruling's legitimacy.

Halabi was accused of joining Hamas in 2004 and being "planted" in the World Vision organisation the following year. He was also accused of providing Hamas with 12 tonnes of steel for digging tunnels.

World Vision, which employs 40,000 workers globally, said on Tuesday that the sentencing was "deeply disappointing".

"We fully support Mohammed's intent to appeal the verdict and the sentence in this case, and we call for a fair and transparent process at the supreme court," World Vision spokesperson Sharon Marshall said.

"We remain committed to improving the lives of vulnerable children in the region and hope we'll be able to advance our humanitarian work in the context of our longstanding cooperation with the relevant authorities in Palestine and Israel."

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