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 World Vision's Gaza Manager Funneled Millions to Hamas: Israel


TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel has accused a manager working for U.S.-headquartered Christian charity World Vision of funneling millions of dollars to Islamist militant group Hamas.
Mohammed El Halabi, the Gaza director of World Vision, looks on during a court appearance in the southern Israeli city of Beersheva on Thursday. DUDU GRUNSHPAN / AFP - Getty Images
Mohammad El Halabi was arrested by Israel on June 15 while crossing the border into Gaza, World Vision said in a statement. He was charged by Israeli authorities on Thursday.

He had run the organization's Gaza operations since 2010.

According to Israel's Shin Bet security service, El Halabi diverted around $7.2 million of World Vision money to Hamas each year. That is the equivalent of 60 percent of the charity's total annual funding for Gaza.

Some 40 percent of the funds aimed at civilian projects — some $1.5 million a year — were "given in cash" to Hamas combat units, according to a statement issued by the Shin Bet.

Some of the money raised to support injured children in the enclave had been diverted to Hamas families by "fraudulently listing their children as wounded," according to the agency.

"Money designated for psychological support, education and health in Gaza ... was used to pay the families of Hamas terrorists," it added.

A lawyer appointed by World Vision to represent El Halabi told NBC News that his client denied the charges against him.

"He told me he never, ever transferred any money to Hamas and he has never been a Hamas member," Muhamad Mahmud said.

The lawyer added that El Halabi had been denied access to a lawyer for 21 days and was badly beaten while in custody.

Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai called the case a "grave incident."

He called on World Vision — which has operated in Gaza, Israel and the West Bank since 1975 — to "assume responsibility and set your house in order."

Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip and has fought three wars against Israel since it overran the coastal territory in 2007, is designated a terrorist organization by the United States.

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World Vision said in a statement it was "shocked to learn of these charges against Mohammad."

It added that it Gaza operations have been subject to regular internal and independent audits, independent evaluations, and internal controls.

"We will carefully review any evidence presented to us and will take appropriate actions based on that evidence," the statement added. "We continue to call for a fair legal process."

The incident prompted Australia's government to suspend its funding for World Vision's operations in the Palestinian Territories.

The country's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) called the allegations "deeply troubling" and said in a statement that it was "urgently seeking more information from World Vision and the Israeli authorities."

Headquartered in Monrovia, California, World Vision describes itself as "a global Christian relief, development and advocacy organization dedicated to working with children, families and communities to overcome poverty and injustice."

The charity's mission statement defines it as "an international partnership of Christians whose mission is to follow our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in working with the poor and oppressed to promote human transformation, seek justice and bear witness to the good news of the Kingdom of God."

It operates in around 100 countries.

 2016/8/5 15:04

 Re: World Vision: Israeli charges based on 'huge gap' in numbers UPDATE

World Vision: Israeli charges based on 'huge gap' in numbers
Aug. 8, 2016 9:02 AM EDT

JERUSALEM (AP) — The international charity World Vision said on Monday that Israel has accused the charity's Gaza Strip director of funneling what appears to be an impossible sum of money to Hamas.

Israel's Shin Bet security agency said Mohammed el-Halabi siphoned about $7.2 million a year to the Islamic militant group over a period of five years. The security agency said this is roughly 60 percent of World Vision's total Gaza budget.

World Vision Germany spokeswoman Silvia Holten said the charity's budget in Gaza in the last decade totaled $22.5 million. She said World Vision has stopped its Gaza operations while investigations continue. Germany and Australia suspended donations to World Vision in Gaza amid the allegations.

"There is a huge gap in these numbers the Israeli government is telling and what we know," Holten said.

Israel indicted el-Halabi last Thursday.

According to the Shin Bet, el-Halabi crafted an elaborate scheme to funnel funds, food, medical supplies and agricultural equipment to Hamas. He fraudulently listed the children of Hamas operatives as wounded, created straw organizations, and inflated project costs to divert cash, the agency said. Building supplies intended to support farming projects were transferred to Hamas for constructing tunnels and military installations, according to the Shin Bet.

The allegations, if proven correct, would bolster Israel's arguments for maintaining its blockade of Gaza, imposed after Hamas seized power in the coastal strip in 2007. Israel says the closure is vital to preventing Hamas from importing weapons and materials used to attack Israel.

Robert Piper, the U.N. coordinator for aid in the Palestinian territories, said Monday that the allegations against el-Halabi "raise serious concerns" for aid groups in Gaza, and that, if proven true, "deserve unreserved condemnation." He called for a fair and transparent trial.

Attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, president of Israeli legal advocacy group Shurat Hadin, said her organization warned World Vision four years ago its funding was being diverted to armed militant groups in Gaza. She said she discovered this while her group researched a lawsuit against the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which in the past was involved in attacking Israelis. She said the PFLP used front organizations that appeared as beneficiaries on the World Vision web site. Darshan-Leitner said she is exploring suing World Vision in the United States for aiding and abetting terrorism.

"Foreign NGOs want to give money to Gaza," Darshan-Leitner said, even as they "ignore all the signs that their money is diverted to terrorism."

World Vision did not immediately respond to the charge.

The U.S. also funded humanitarian projects run by World Vision through 2011, which overlaps with el-Halabi's time as Gaza director. The U.S. State Department said in a statement that it is closely following the Israeli investigation. If confirmed, Hamas's embezzlement of aid funds would be "reprehensible," according to the statement.

Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon speculated that World Vision's budget does not include in-kind donations like food.

"They are trying to belittle their role and to show they are much smaller than they really are," Nahshon said of World Vision. He did not provide proof of his claim, but said el-Halabi's legal team will have access to the evidence. He added that el-Halabi confessed to his crimes, but el-Halabi's lawyer Mohammed Mahmoud said his client did not confess.

Holten said the World Vision budget includes all in-kind donations, but she did not provide a detailed report of the organization's spending in Gaza in recent years. She said World Vision performs stringent internal audits and commissions external audits from outside companies as well.

El-Halabi's father has denied he is a member of Hamas. A spokesman for Hamas in Gaza, Hazem Qasem, has called the allegations "lies."

 2016/8/8 9:24

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