Danon denies UN prisoner release demands, stating 'Immunity is not given to terrorists'

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August 25, 2016 21:26

Danon: "Immunity is not given to terrorists working to harm Israeli citizens."

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Danny Danon addressing the UN Security Council, October 22, 2015

Danny Danon addressing the UN Security Council, October 22, 2015. (photo credit:UN PHOTO/KIM HAUGHTON)

Israel will not give immunity to those suspected of aiding and abetting terrorists, the Foreign Ministry said Thursday night in a sharply worded response to a UN demand that it release a UN Development Agency (UNDP) employee arrested last month.

“Israel rejects the claim that a person assisting a terrorist organization recognized by the international community, such as Hamas, could enjoy immunity,” the statement read. “Whoever assists a terrorist organization cannot hide behind a claim of immunity.”

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Wahid Abdullah al-Bursh was indicted earlier this month in Beersheba District Court for abusing his position as a UN worker to aid Hamas, including the construction of a port for use by its naval commandos.

The UN’s legal office sent Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon a letter on Wednesday demanding the release of Bursh, claiming he should be granted diplomatic immunity.

The ministry’s reply came following a legal investigation of the matter inside the Foreign Ministry at the direction of director-general Dore Gold.

The statement said the UN, which until Wednesday said Bursh was a subcontractor, and that they trusted Israel to properly investigate the case, suddenly changed its mind and has determined he should receive immunity.

The statement said the claim was examined by jurists, and found to be “unsubstantiated.”

“In any case it is important to clarify that the immunity from which certain UN agencies employees benefit is related to the performance of their duties,” the statement said. “It is clear that immunity is not a license to commit acts of terrorism.

It is outrageous that a man assisting a terrorist organization could benefit from UN immunity.”

According to the UN’s claims, each employee in its organization should enjoy diplomatic immunity, and Bursh should therefore be released. It also demanded that a representative of the UN secretary-general be allowed to visit him in jail.

The UNDP in Gaza deals with the rehabilitation of homes damaged during fighting.

According to the Shin Bet, Bursh, a UNDP employee since 2003, was approached shortly after the 2014 Gaza war by Husseini Suleiman, a messenger for senior Hamas commander Abu Anas al-Andor, who asked him to use his position as an engineer to help the terrorist organization. In April and May 2015, he allegedly helped build a Hamas naval commando port in the northern Gaza Strip.

Bursh is also alleged to have used his authority to transfer to the site 300 tons of construction materials. He also convinced his manager at UNDP to give preference to rehabilitation projects in areas where Hamas agents were operating.

When weapons or tunnel openings were discovered in homes being worked on as part of UNDP projects, UN procedures for reporting such findings were not followed, a Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) investigation found.

Bursh’s interrogation uncovered Hamas operatives embedded in other aid organizations, the Shin Bet added. He also provided information on Hamas tunnels and weapons warehouses he encountered during his work.

Danon, in recent weeks, has been working with international aid organizations operating in the Gaza Strip to establish monitoring mechanisms for workers recruited to the organizations, and to prevent the streaming of funds to Hamas.

“We demand the UN and other organizations carry out a comprehensive reform of the mechanisms of humanitarian aid to Gaza,” Danon said . “Every dollar and every local employee of an international organization that enters the Gaza Strip must be supervised by independent bodies.”

Yonah Jeremy Bob, Danielle Ziri and Adam Ragson contributed to this report.

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