A senior United Nations engineer in the Gaza Strip has been indicted in the Beersheba District Court for abusing his post in order to aid Hamas, including the construction of a port for use by its naval commandos.
The indictment against 38-year-old Wahid Abdullah al-Bursh of Jabalya was filed by the Southern District Attorney’s Office around two weeks ago, but was under gag order until Tuesday. The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) announced it had arrested him on July 16.
Bursh is an employee of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), which undertakes such projects as rehabilitating Gaza Strip homes damaged in warfare.
He has worked as a UNDP engineer since 2003 and was tasked with overseeing the demolition of homes and evacuating the waste.
According to the Shin Bet, Bursh 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 to help the terrorist organization. In April and May 2015, he allegedly helped build the naval commando port in the northern Gaza Strip.
Bursh is said 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 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.
“This investigation shows the manner in which Hamas takes advantage of aid resources from international organizations in Gaza, which are intended to be used as humanitarian aid for the civilian population,” the Shin Bet stated. The formal charges in the indictment against Bursh include contact with a foreign agent, providing services to an illegal organization and carrying out activities with terrorist property.
The Shin Bet announcement came after it was revealed last week
that funds from the international Christian aid agency World Vision were allegedly used to aid Hamas.
World Vision has denied the claims.
In response to the revelations, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said on Tuesday that money contributed to human rights groups needed to be under close supervision, since these groups have been used “many times” as funnels to fund terrorist groups. She added that Israel was demanding an immediate investigation into the incident to ensure that “an organization that is meant to work toward peace and quiet does not support a murderous terrorist organization.”
Following the announcements, Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon called on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to put an end to the “exploitation” of the world body by Hamas.
“This is not an isolated case, but rather a troubling trend of the systematic exploitation by Hamas terrorists of UN organizations,” Danon said in a statement. “If the UN truly wants to better the lives of the residents of Gaza, it must remove every employee working for the Hamas and sever all ties with organizations aiding terrorists.”
News of Bursh’s indictment came just a few days after Israel made public the arrest of Mohammad El Halabi, the manager of operations in the Gaza Strip for World Vision.
UN agencies such as the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) have provided support to World Vision in the past.
“Only by implementing strict oversight mechanisms can the UN ensure that they are not exploited by the vicious terrorists whose only aim is to murder Jews and destroy the State of Israel,” Danon said.
The ambassador’s statement said the arrest of Bursh raised “serious concerns” because he was an employee of an official UN body.
Following the announcement of Burch’s indictment, the UNDP spokesperson released a statement saying the group was “greatly concerned by the allegation” and that it had “zero tolerance for wrongdoing in all of its programs and projects.”
The UNDP explained that the rubble removal project Bursh was working on had been established to respond to the consequences of the 2014 hostilities in Gaza. It said the project had allowed it to remove more than a million tons of rubble, as well as 2,761 pieces of unexploded ordnance.
The allegations concerning Bursh, the organization said, referred to just 300 tons of rubble, or seven truckloads out of nearly 26,000.
“UNDP would like to reassure its partners, donors and stakeholders that it has robust measures in place to ensure that the rubble, which is removed and crushed, goes to its intended purpose and has been transferred to specific locations with the request and approval of the Ministry of Public Works and Housing,” the statement said. “UNDP is committed to the highest standards of transparency and accountability and, therefore, in light of this development, UNDP is conducting a thorough internal review of the processes and circumstances surrounding the allegation.”
In addition to the internal investigation, the UNDP spokesperson said the group would continue to cooperate fully with the authorities.
“UNDP stands behind the professional work of its staff and personnel, specifically in areas as complex and challenging as the rubble removal project, where the risk of endangering civilians and staff is high if strict measures and operating procedures are not adequately followed,” the spokesperson wrote.
“Mr. Al Bursh should be accorded all due legal process and has the right to a fair trial.”
Ban had not issued a separate statement at press time.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri responded by stating: “The Israeli accusations about UNDP’s financial leaks for the benefit of Hamas are false and baseless claims, and come on the background of an Israeli plan to intensify the suffocation and siege of the Gaza Strip by going after and pressuring international aid organizations” operating in the Gaza Strip.
“Hamas warns the Israeli occupation against continuing such a policy and calls on the international community to undertake its responsibility in confronting these Israeli practices, which will have dangerous consequences if they continue,” Zuhri added.Adam Rasgon and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.
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