Friday, August 12, 2022

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Israel convicts former World Vision Gaza chief of aiding Hamas

 Israel convicts former World Vision Gaza chief of aiding Hamas

Left-wing activists holding placards and a Palestinian national flag, and right-wing protesters argue outside an Israeli court during the trial of Palestinian Mohammed al-Halabi, the former Gaza director of World Vision, in Beersheba

Beersheba – An Israeli court on Wednesday found the former Gaza head of a major US-based NGO guilty of embezzling millions of dollars to Islamist group Hamas, six years after his arrest.

Israel had accused Palestinian Mohammed al-Halabi, who headed Gaza operations for World Vision, of siphoning-off millions of dollars to Hamas, which rules the Palestinian enclave.

He was arrested in June 2016 and indicted in August that year.

Both Halabi and the charity have staunchly denied any irregularities.

But the Israeli court in Beersheba on Wednesday convicted Halabi of belonging to a terrorist group, Hamas, and of financing terrorist activities, of having “transmitted information to the enemy” as well as the possession of a weapon, according to a summary of the ruling viewed by AFP.

“The charges against the accused point to extensive financial support and information sharing with Hamas,” it said.

Much of the evidence against Halabi was kept secret, with Israeli citing “security concerns”, prompting his legal team to question the verdict’s legitimacy.

Halabi’s lawyer Maher Hanna called the judgement “totally political”, saying it had “nothing to do with the facts”. 

He said Halabi would be appealing.

The Australian government, a major donor to World Vision, announced it was freezing funding to projects in the Gaza Strip following Halabi’s arrest.

A subsequent Australian government probe found no evidence of embezzlement.

Sharon Marshall, senior director of public engagement for World Vision, expressed “extreme disappointment” following the verdict.

“In our view, there have been irregularities in the trial process and a lack of substantive and publicly available evidence,” she said.

The UN Human Rights Office on Tuesday had expressed “serious concerns” over the proceedings, in particular regarding the “lack of evidence”.

The sentencing is expected in the coming weeks.