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Israel sentences Palestinian UN worker for aiding Hamas

Under plea deal, Wahid Abdallah al-Bursh will be released next week with 8 months of probation
Materials taken into Gaza are subject to some of the strictest monitoring in world (AFP)

An Israeli court sentenced a Palestinian UN worker to seven months in jail on Wednesday for aiding the group Hamas in the Gaza Strip, according to the UN agency that employed him.

Wahid Abdallah al-Bursh was detained in July, and Israel's Shin Bet security agency claimed he confessed to being recruited by the group in 2014. Bursh was convicted of "rendering services to an illegal organisation without intention," his lawyer, Lea Tsemel, told AFP.

Under the terms of a plea deal, Israel plans to release Bursh next week, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said. The Israeli justice ministry confirmed the plea deal, saying that it also included eight months of probation.

A Shin Bet statement in August said Bursh had provided assistance in the building of a maritime jetty for Hamas "using UNDP resources".  

But Tsemel stressed that her client had been convicted only of unintentionally aiding Hamas by "moving some rubble," which was allegedly used to build the jetty.

It also said Bursh had persuaded his UNDP superiors to prioritise the neighbourhoods of Hamas operatives when earmarking money for reconstruction in Gaza, which was devastated by a 2014 war by Israel.

The aid organisation said in a statement on Wednesday that the court's decision "confirms that there was no wrongdoing by UNDP".

"UNDP has zero tolerance for wrongdoing in its programmes and is committed to the highest standards of transparency and accountability," it added.

Shortly before Bursh's detention, Israel also indicted a senior Palestinian staffer with the US-based charity World Vision on charges of funnelling millions of dollars to Hamas in Gaza.

A foreign ministry spokesman said the trial of Mohammed El Halabi was ongoing.

Hamas had denied any links with Bursh and rejected the charges against Halabi.

Hamas has observed a de facto ceasefire with Israel since 2014, when 2,100 Palestinians and 73 Israelis were killed in the third war in Gaza since 2008.

Israel has long alleged that Hamas sought to infiltrate humanitarian organisations and divert aid, accusations the Islamist movement denies.

Aid workers say materials taken into Gaza are subject to some of the strictest monitoring in the world and that Israel's blockade is preventing needed goods from entering the impoverished enclave.

More than two-thirds of the population of the Gaza Strip, which Israel has blockaded for a decade, are reliant on some form of aid, according to the UN.