The UN chief for aid and development for Palestine has warned of the potential humanitarian fallout from a scandal around aid agency funds allegedly being diverted to Hamas, according to Anadolu Agency.
Robert Piper called in a statement on Monday for a prompt and fair trial for the U.S.-based World Vision charity’s Gaza director Mohammed el-Halabi, who was arrested by Israeli forces in June.
For its part, The international charity World Vision says that the sums its director in the Gaza Strip is accused of funneling to the Hamas Movement are impossibly high. The director, Mohamed Halabi, is currently in Israeli detention. According to the Christian charity, which denies the allegations, the sum Halabi is accused of siphoning off to Hamas’s armed wing far surpasses the organization’s actual budget for the past decade.
Last Thursday, Israel’s internal intelligence agency, the Shin Bet, accused the charity of transferring about 60 percent of its Gaza budget to al-Qassam Brigades of Hamas each year. Halabi, it claims, has confessed to rerouting about 7.2 million dollars a year to Hamas over the past five years.
World Vision spokeswoman in Germany Silvia Holten said on Monday that the charity’s Gaza budget totaled 22.5 million dollars in the last decade, which is well under the Shin Bet estimate of Halabi’s alleged transfers to Hamas. According to Holten, there is a “huge gap” in the numbers. World Vision has halted its Gaza operations while the issue is being investigated.
As a result, Germany and Australia have suspended donations to World Vision in Gaza. The Shin Bet also accuses Halabi, who holds a master in engineering, of joining al-Qassam Brigades in 2004 and infiltrating a humanitarian organization to serve al-Qassam’s interests and needs.
Halabi’s father has denied his son is a member of Hamas, while Hamas spokesman Hazem Qasem has called the Israeli allegations “lies”. Palestinian media reported Halaby’s arrest two months ago, when he was taken prisoner at the Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing by the Shin Bet. His family said at the time it had no idea why he was arrested and what crimes he was being blamed for. Halabi’s attorney Mohamed Mahmoud stated on Thursday his client denied any links to Hamas, and that the fact the investigation lasted 55 days proves there is a problem with the evidence.
Since the allegations emerged Thursday, Australia has suspended funding worth $3.8 million and the charity’s German wing said all funding from the German government has been stopped during the investigation.
Despite claims of el-Halabi directing $7 million a year, the charity said its total budget for the region over the last decade has been only $22.5 million and that there have been no irregularities in independent audits of the charity’s finances.