Israel charges second aid official for Hamas links

10 Aug 16

A second aid official from Gaza has been charged by Israel for allegedly using his position to support Hamas.

 

Israel’s domestic security agency Shin Bet announced yesterday that Waheed Borsch, a United Nations Development Programme employee, had been arrested in July and charged yesterday in a civilian court with using aid funds and other resources to help the group.

His arrest follows that of Mohammad El Halabi, manager of operations for global Christian charity World Vision’s operations in Gaza, less than a week ago. Halabi’s arrest led to both Australia and Germany suspending their funding for the charity.

In its statement, Shin Bet said Borsh, who is from Gaza and has worked for the UNDP since 2003, had confessed to carrying out activities that aided Hamas, which is designated as a terrorist organisation by Israel, the UK, US and others.

According to the agency, Borsh said he had used UNDP resources to help build a military jetty to be used by Hamas’ naval forces and that when weapons or tunnel openings were discovered in houses handled by the UNDP, Hamas was able to take control of the site and arms.

Shin Bet also claims that in 2015, he persuaded UNDP managers to prioritise housing rehabilitation in areas populated by Hamas members in response to a request from the group.

Following Halabi’s arrest, World Vision pointed out that he had been in custody for 50 days and spent about half of them without any legal counsel. It is unclear whether this is the case for Borsh, but the UNDP called for him to be accorded all due legal processes.

In a statement, the UNDP confirmed Borsh was employed as a contractor, working on a rubble removal project established to respond to the destruction caused by the 2014 hostilities in Gaza.

The UNDP said it has removed more than one million tons of rubble as well as 2,761 unexploded munitions through the project. It said it has robust measures in place to ensure the rubble is only used for its intended purpose.

Israeli authorities allege Borsh diverted 300 tons of rubble, or more than seven truckloads out of a total of nearly 26, to a Hamas-operated port in Northern Gaza to construct the jetty.

The UNDP said it has “zero tolerance for wrongdoing” in its programmes and is “greatly concerned” about the allegations. It is conducting a “thorough internal review of the processes and circumstances” surrounding the allegations and will cooperate fully with authorities.

Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said this case, as well as that of Halabi a few days earlier, shows how “Hamas exploits the resources of international organisations at the expense of the civilian population in the Gaza Strip”.

In a separate statement, it said it had contacted UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon to inform him of Borsh’s indictment and its expectation that the UN “unequivocally condemn Hamas” for exploiting the system and take “concrete measures” to prevent it.

Hamas has denied the allegations surrounding its connection with both Borsh and Halabi.

Shin Bet claimed that according to Borsh, other Palestinians working for aid agencies are also working for Hamas.

Following Halabi’s arrest, the director general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a letter to his counterparts overseas warning of the “danger posed by the Iranian-supported Hamas terrorist organisation exploiting aid money donated to Gaza”. Meanwhile, he also instructed Israeli ambassadors abroad to covey the severity of the case and the Hamas “takeover” of humanitarian aid systems.

Since Halabi’s arrest, World Vision has suspended operations in Gaza pending a full review. However in a statement its CEO, Kevin Jenkins, said it had “not seen any of the evidence”.

He said: “World Vision’s cumulative operating budget in Gaza for the past ten years was approximately $22.5m, which makes the alleged amount of up to $50m being diverted hard to reconcile.” he said.

Jenkins added that individuals in management positions of Halabi’s level only had authority to sign off sums of up to $15,000.

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