Hamas and UNDP denied Israeli charges against a Palestinian employee of the United Nations agency, accusing him of providing “material assistance” to Hamas. According to a statement released on Tuesday by the Israeli Security Agency (ISA), 38-year-old engineer Waheed al-Barsh was arrested on July 16 and charged in a Beersheva court on Tuesday, According to According to Palestinian local agencies.
from his side, Deputy head of Hamas’ politburo Ismail Haniyeh denied that the movement had any links to UN and international NGO employees who have been detained by Israel in the past few months.
Earlier this month, the Israeli government accused a Palestinian employee of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Gaza of diverting funds to the Hamas movement, nearly a week after it announced Israeli forces had detained a Palestinian employee of NGO World Vision on similar grounds.
The indictment accused the UN Development Programme (UNDP) staffer al-Barsh of abusing his position to renovate Hamas members’ homes, having been recruited by “a senior member of the Hamas organization to redirect his work for UNDP to serve Hamas’ military interests”.
During a meeting with a Norwegian diplomat, Haniyeh condemned the Israeli detention campaign against staff of international organizations working in the besieged Gaza Strip.
“Israeli claims that international organization employees are affiliated to Hamas are completely false,” Haniyeh vehemently stated.
On Tuesday, Hamas senior spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri called the Israeli allegations “invalid and untrue,” adding that Hamas saw them as forming “part of Israel’s plan to reinforce the siege on the Gaza Strip by going after international organizations working in Gaza.”
The recent spate of detentions of aid workers over their alleged involvement with Hamas comes amid an already dire situation in the besieged Gaza Strip.
The Gaza Strip has suffered under an Israeli military blockade since 2007, when Hamas was elected to rule the territory. Residents of Gaza suffer from high unemployment and poverty rates, as well as the consequences of three devastating wars with Israel since 2008, most recently in the summer of 2014.
The 51-day Israeli offensive, termed “Operation Protective Edge” by Israeli authorities, resulted in the killings of at least 1,462 Palestinian civilians, a third of whom were children, according to the UN.
Since then, Israel has repeatedly restricted the amount of construction material allowed into the Gaza Strip, claiming that Hamas diverted portions of it.
The UN has said that the besieged Palestinian territory could become “uninhabitable” by 2020, as its 1.8 million residents remain in dire poverty due to the nearly decade-long Israeli blockade that has crippled the economy, while continuing to experience the widespread destruction wrought by the Israeli offenses, and the slow-paced reconstruction efforts aimed at rebuilding homes for some 75,000 of Palestinians who remain displaced following the last Israeli assault.
Recovery efforts have also been hindered by a severe shortage of foreign funding.
Earlier this year, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), which has played a leading role in rebuilding destroyed homes in the beleaguered coastal enclave, said that of the $720 million required for its emergency shelter program, donor countries had pledged only $247 million.
“It is alleged by the Israeli authorities that Mr. Al Bursh complied with a request from a senior Hamas individual to transport 300 tons of rubble from a UNDP rubble removal project site to a Hamas-run location at the Northern Gaza Hamas-operated port,” the statement read. According to UNDP, al-Bursh is a contractor who has been providing professional services within the rubble removal project, which was established to respond to the consequences of the 2014 hostilities in Gaza. “Through this project, UNDP has removed more than one million tons of rubble as well as 2,761 unexploded ordnances,” it added. “The allegations concerning Mr. al-Barsh by the Israeli occupation authorities refer to 300 tons of the more than one million tons removed, or 7 truckloads out of a total of nearly 26,000,” UNDP stated. “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 agency further noted.
“UNDP is committed to the highest standards of transparency and accountability. 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 statement further read. “The rubble removal project is considered essential for the recovery and reconstruction of Gaza following the conflict,” said the agency.
“Mr. al-Barsh should be accorded all due legal process and has the right to a fair trial,” UNDP concluded. Al-Barsh’s family also denied the Israeli allegations, saying the engineer has always abided by the UNDP instructions and regulations. On Thursday, Israel also announced that Muhammad al-Halabi, the head of the Gaza office of Christian NGO, World Vision ,who was detained at a border crossing in June, was being charged with siphoning funds from the organization to Hamas, which both Hamas and World Vision firmly denied.