GAZA, Aug. 4 (UPI) — An executive in a global Christian charity group has been secretly sending tens of millions of dollars — money intended to aid poverty-stricken families in chaotic Gaza — to the Palestinian militant group Hamas, Israeli investigators say.
The news came Thursday as Mohammed Halabi was indicted on numerous criminal charges for misappropriating the funds. He is director of the Gaza office of the World Vision International relief group, and was arrested June 15 as he attempted to re-enter Gaza from Israel.
Halabi’s arrest followed a lengthy investigation by Israel’s Shin Bet security service, which concluded that roughly 60 percent of all the money received by the charity’s Gaza office ended up in the hands of Hamas operators.
Shin Bet said Halabi, in fact, was recruited as a Hamas agent in 2004 — indicating that tens of millions of aid dollars may have been going to the Palestinian group for more than a decade.
Thursday’s indictment claims Halabi was asked by Hamas in 2005 to infiltrate a humanitarian organization to “operate secretly to advance” the interests of Hamas’ armed wing, Izzedin al-Qassam.
World Vision International is an Evangelical humanitarian aid, development, and advocacy organization founded in 1950 to offer emergency aid to Christian missionaries. The London-based group expanded its scope to include social and industrial development in 1975 — and says it is “dedicated to working with children, families and communities to overcome poverty and injustice.”
The organization said in a statement Thursday that it has no reason to believe the Hamas connection is true.
“We are shocked to learn that Mohammad El Halabi, the manager of operations for World Vision in Gaza has been charged with providing support to Hamas.,” the non-profit organization said in a post to Facebook Thursday.
“We continue to call for a fair, legal process.”
The group asserted Thursday that it will let the legal process play out before making any judgments on Halabi, and added that its Gaza branch is regularly subjected to various oversight intended to ensure the money is going where it’s supposed to go.
“World Vision programs in Gaza have been subject to regular internal and independent audits, independent evaluations, and a broad range of internal controls aimed at ensuring that assets reach their intended beneficiaries,” the group said. “We will carefully review any evidence presented to us and will take appropriate actions based on that evidence. We continue to call for a fair, legal process for Mohammad.”
World Vision International is active in more than 90 countries, and in 2011 reported total revenues of nearly $3 billion.
Hamas, a Palestinian Sunni-Islamic fundamentalist organization, is considered a terror group by many Western nations — including the United States, Britain and nations of the European Union.