Australia has suspended all money earmarked for a Christian aid group’s work in the Palestinian Territories after Israel claimed that the charity’s head in the Gaza Strip had syphoned millions of dollars to Palestinian resistance movement Hamas, according to Anadolu Agency.
World Vision Gaza Director Mohammad El Halabi has appeared before a court in Israel, facing charges of diverting millions of the humanitarian organization’s funds to pay Hamas fighters, buy arms, and build fortifications.
On Friday, World Vision Australia Chief Executive Officer Tim Costello said that they had “no reason to believe” the allegations were true.
Costello told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that Halabi had worked with the organization for 10 years, and described him as “a well-respected manager”.
“I’m profoundly shocked. And they are very explosive allegations,” Costello said. “I was a lawyer for 15 years and I can tell you there are always two sides, and we have only heard one side.”
He underlined that World Vision was regularly audited each year by renowned auditing outfit PricewaterhouseCoopers and there had been no sign of any discrepancy.
For its part, Hamas on Thursday denied Israeli allegations that the manager of World Vision’s Gaza office, Mohammed al-Halabi, passed millions of dollars to Hamas.
Hamas spokesperson Abdullatif al-Kanou’ said the group had “no connection to al-Halabi and therefore, all Israeli accusations are counterfeit and aim to suppress our people and toughen the blockade”.
Israel’s Shin Bet agency accused al-Halabi of funneling millions of dollars in aid money to Hamas, charges that the resistance group denied and the charity voiced skepticism over. World Vision official Mohammed al-Halabi appeared before a court on Thursday, facing charges of using millions of charity funds in aid to Hamas.
Anadolu Agency repoted that The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has said it is suspending the provision of funding until an investigation is complete.
“The allegations that a locally employed World Vision employee in the Gaza Strip has diverted aid funds from a range of international donors and provided support to Hamas are deeply troubling,” it said in a statement.
The government is reported to have given the aid group more than A$5 million ($3.83 million) over the past three years for projects in the Gaza Strip.
In a statement published on its website Thursday, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed that more than half of World Vision’s resources in the Gaza Strip — originating in aid money from Western states such as the United States, England and Australia — were transferred to Hamas to strengthen its “terrorist” arm.
“El-Halabi has been taking advantage of his position to divert the humanitarian organization’s funds and resources from the needy to benefit Hamas’ terrorist and military activities,” it said, accusing him of establishing and promoting humanitarian projects and fictitious agricultural associations that acted as cover for the transfer of monies to Hamas.
“Examples of these projects and associations include: greenhouse construction; restoration of agricultural lands; mental health and public health projects for Gaza residents; aid to fishermen; a treatment center for the physically and mentally disabled; and farmers’ associations,” it said
“The money allocated by World Vision for projects and farmers’ associations reached Hamas in various ways, such as the false registration of Hamas terrorists as employees in charity-sponsored projects; issuing fictitious receipts and inflated invoices in which the difference paid by the charity was transferred in cash to Hamas; transfer of the charity’s checks to Hamas terrorists, etc.”
World Vision Australia has said it has not been briefed or seen evidence of the charges.
In a statement, it said that El Halabi was arrested at Erez Crossing — the major passenger crossing between Gaza and Israel — June 15 on his way home from routine meetings, and after 50 days in Israeli state detention he was charged Aug. 4 with providing support.
Costello told ABC that he was worried that a person could be in detention for 25 days without seeing a lawyer.
“Over 50 days without seeing family members and even World Vision staff. That certainly does concern me,” he underlined.