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(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israeli intelligence about Palestinian groups that a US-based Muslim charity aided was often unreliable, a former senior US diplomat testified at the organization's trial on terrorism-support charges.
Edward Abingdon, who served as US consul-general in Jerusalem during the 1990s, said the Israelis had an "agenda" and provided "selective information to try to influence US thinking."
Abingdon's testimony Tuesday took dead aim at prosecutors' claims that the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development was knowingly funding terrorists instead of providing humanitarian aid.
Holy Land, once the United States' largest Muslim charity, and five of its leaders are charged with funneling millions in illegal aid to Hamas, which the US government considers a terrorist organization.
Prosecutors say Holy Land funded schools and hospitals it knew were run by Hamas. US agents raided Holy Land and shut it down in December 2001.
In six weeks of testimony, the prosecution's key witness was an Israeli government lawyer who was allowed to testify anonymously. He said many of the Palestinian schools and charities to which Holy Land gave money were controlled by Hamas.
Prosecutors presented bank records of transactions with a man who later became a Hamas leader, and secret surveillance including Holy Land officials at a Philadelphia meeting of Hamas supporters in 1993.
Abingdon, whose post essentially made him the US ambassador to the Palestinian Authority, testified that he was privy to daily CIA reports in Jerusalem yet was never told that terrorists controlled the groups that got money from Holy Land.
Abingdon, the first defense witness of the trial, said the US Agency for International Development gave money to some of the same groups. He added that he met many officials of the charities.
The diplomat said he had heard of Holy Land "as a Palestinian-American charity that distributed assistance to needy families in the West Bank and Gaza."
From 1993 to 1999, Abingdon was consul-general in Jerusalem, and like others he was under orders not to have contact with Hamas.
Abingdon said the Israelis provided intelligence to the CIA, and defense attorney Nancy Hollander asked him if he found the Israeli information reliable. "No," he answered, and she asked why not.
"I feel the Israelis have an agenda ... they provide selective information to try to influence US thinking," he said.
Abingdon spent 30 years in the State Department. He resigned in 1999 and spent seven years at a Washington lobbying firm that represented the Palestinian Authority for as much as $750,000 a year. He said he never worked for Hamas.
On cross-examination, prosecutor Barry Jonas questioned Abingdon's objectivity, suggesting that officials in Washington considered him anti-Israeli and close personally to the late Yasser Arafat, who led the Palestinian Authority.
Both Israeli and American diplomatic officials placed little stock in Abingdon's statement, saying that the intelligence cooperation between the two states was very tight.
The relationship between the national security establishments in Israel and the US is a close and intimate relationship, based on mutual trust, respect and cooperation, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said. Both countries value highly this cooperation which is built upon mutual respect for each side's professionalism and integrity.
A US diplomatic official said that Abingdon expressed his opinion as a private citizen, and that it doesn't reflect the attitude of the US government. "We have excellent relations with the Israelis," he said.