Australia has suspended funding for operations of a major international NGO in the occupied Palestinian lands following Israeli claims that the director of its Gaza branch diverted millions of dollars to the resistance movement, Hamas.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said in a statement on Friday that it “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.”
“We are suspending the provision of further funding to World Vision for programs in the Palestinian Territories until the investigation is complete,” the statement said.
It added that the department was “investigating this as a matter of the highest priority”, stressing that, “Officials are urgently seeking more information from World Vision and the Israeli authorities.”
The statement came after Israel’s internal spy agency Shin Bet said Hamas had recruited Mohammed el-Halabi over 10 years ago in a bid to infiltrate the international aid group.
Shin Bet claimed that Halabi began to funnel USD 7.2 million (6.5 million euros) to Hamas each year after he rose to become the head of the aid organization in 2010.
According to Shin Bet, the senior World Vision employee diverted roughly 60 percent of the charity’s annual budget in Gaza to Hamas, including its military wing, Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.
Mohammed el-Halabi (C), the Gaza director of World Vision, looks on during his indictment at a district court in the southern Israeli city of Beersheva on August 4, 2016. ©AFP
Halabi had been arrested on June 15 and charged with the transfers, Shin Bet noted.
The notorious Israeli agency has a record of arresting activists and rights campaigners in the occupied Palestinian territories and in the blockaded Gaza Strip.
Reacting to developments, the World Vision Australia chief executive, Tim Costello, has said the charity was “mystified” by the charges given that independent audits had found its programs in the Palestine were clean.
A Hamas spokesman has also said that the group had no connection with el-Halabi.
Halabi’s parents have also denied any links between their son and Hamas.
World Vision has tens of thousands of employees in some 100 countries. It has been offering aid to the Gazans, who have been affected by a crippling Israeli blockade and three devastating Israeli wars since Hamas was elected to rule the territory in 2007.