German IHH rejects links to Hamas

Banned group claims to be purely humanitarian.

Netanyahu merkel berlin 311 (photo credit: AP)
Netanyahu merkel berlin 311
(photo credit: AP)
The head of the German branch of IHH, which had been banned due to accusations of financing Hamas, rejected on Wednesday allegations of supporting the Islamic militant group and said his charity was only delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza.
The decision by the Interior Ministry to ban the International Humanitarian Relief Organization punishes people in need and will severely damage the country's image throughout the Muslim world, Mustafa Yoldas told journalists in Berlin.
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Yoldas said the group is not a political, but a humanitarian organization that helps the neediest regardless of language, race or religion.
"I swear, had they been suffering hunger, thirst or hardship, we would have also helped Jews," he said.
The ministry banned the group Monday, saying it is believed to have collected money in mosques and to have sent about $8.3 million to relief organizations belonging to or supporting Hamas, which Germany considers a terrorist organization.
But Yoldas accused the Interior Ministry of bowing to Israeli pressure, and said the organization will appeal in court against its ban and is checking with lawyers to seek a swift court injunction, he said.
Yoldas acknowledged that delivering aid to people in Gaza made it unavoidable to have some contact with Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip.
He claimed the organization supports about 3,200 orphans through a partner organization in Gaza.
Hamas doesn't recognize Israel; organizations that work directly or indirectly against Israel's right to exist lose the right to be active in Germany, the ministry said.
According to a 2004 German high court decision, the ministry said it is irrelevant whether the money was targeted for charity or otherwise, because Hamas works as an entity and giving money to any branch will bolster the group's terrorist activities.
Yoldas insisted that humanitarian aid in cooperation with local partner organizations should be allowed, pointing to similar activities by the Red Cross or the United Nations.
"Otherwise you would have to let people starve or die to make sure not to support Hamas," he said.
Yoldas, a 39-year-old doctor living in the northern city of Hamburg, and other main figures in the organization are also active in the Islamic group Milli Gorus, which has been under observation by German authorities for allegedly supporting Islamic fundamentalists.
The International Humanitarian Relief Organization was founded in Germany in the early 1990s, but split in two separate entities in 1997, one in Germany and the other in Turkey, according to the ministry.
The branch in Turkey was recently involved in organizing the flotilla meant to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza, that was stopped by Israeli military on May 31.