A student supporting Hamas holds a Palestinian flag in a rally in Ramallah, earlier this year.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
GAZA - A Palestinian representative of US-based Christian charity World Vision denies Israeli allegations that he funneled millions of dollars in aid money to the Islamist terrorist group Hamas, his lawyer said on Sunday.
Muhammad el-Halabi, World Vision’s manager of operations in the Gaza Strip, was arrested by Israel on June 15 while crossing into the enclave, which is under the de facto rule of Hamas, a group on the Israeli and US terrorism blacklists.
Briefing reporters on Thursday, a senior Israeli security official said Halabi, who has run the group’s Gaza operations since 2010, had been under surveillance.
The Israeli official said Halabi confessed to siphoning off some $7.2 million a year, about 60 percent of World Vision’s Gaza funding, to pay Hamas fighters, buy arms, pay for other activities and build fortifications.
“Muhammad (el-Halabi) denies all these accusations. He denied it all,” Jerusalem- based lawyer Muhammad Mahmoud, who was assigned to represent Halabi by the charity group, told Reuters by phone on Sunday.
Mahmoud said he met his client during a court session last week, and these were his first comments made publicly.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nachshon said in response that “the evidence seems solid and conclusive.”
He added that Halabi will have the opportunity to “present his position in a court of law.”
Nachshon said that Israel noted “with satisfaction” the decision taken by the German and Australian government to suspend funding to the organization.
Australia and Germany are the two biggest donors to World Vision.
Immediately after the case was publicized last week, Israel’s diplomats abroad were instructed to highlight the matter in the locales where they are posted.
World Vision has said it was “shocked” by Israel’s allegations.
And while the organization said there was no reason to believe they were true, it would review the evidence.
Hamas has denied any connection to Halabi.
After the case was made public, Australia suspended aid to World Vision. The US State Department, according to one official, is concerned by the allegations and following the investigation closely.
On Sunday, dozens of Palestinians who used to benefit from World Vision aid in Gaza rallied in solidarity with Halabi, demanding his release.